WEST ORANGE, NJ — Last week, West Orange resident Anthony Sarto of Clarken Drive came before the West Orange Township Council to ask about the status of the Christopher Columbus monument, which still stands at the intersection of Valley Road and Kingsley Street.
As an Italian-American, he explained that he had heard from many in the community who are concerned about the monument's removal without a "proper public hearing" and replacing the monument with something "not in honor of an Italian American."
In favor of keeping the monument, Sarto said that he believed that the only way for the monument could be removed is through a resolution proposed by the mayor, because he believed that the monument was installed by resolution.
This comes two weeks after Mayor Robert Parisi appeared on Facebook saying that he was in favor of removing the long-standing monument.
"We looked for the history of the ordinance; we looked for any resolution regarding this," said Township Attorney Ken Kayser. "It doesn't appear that the ordinance applies to this situation."
Thanks to Township Public Information Officer and Historian Joe Fagan, the only information found was that the monument was dedicated on Oct. 10, 1992.
Kayser continued that even though the monument was placed on the triangular piece of land, the township had nothing to do with its installation. He believes it was a private effort to place a monument on public land.
"I guess nobody disagreed with it, nobody's taken it off since," Kayser said. "But the town doesn't seem to have any involvement in that project."
Even though he understood the reason why many in the community want the monument removed, Councilman Joe Krakoviak said that he does not believe in taking down the monument because Christopher Columbus is a part of history that should not be forgotten.
“Columbus may have arguably had more impact than any other single person on the development of our country, but history shows that he did terrible things to many other people,” he said. “We should not forget either of these facts, nor that was a person of his time.”
He continued that keeping the monument would show “how far we have come since that time” because the things that Columbus thought was acceptable at that time have not been acceptable for many decades.
Paraphrasing Maya Angelou, Councilwoman Susan McCartney added that everyone does their best until they know better.
“When we know better, we have to do better, and I feel like that’s where we are” she said.
Councilman Jerry Guarino and Council President Michelle Casalino asked for everyone to remember the feelings of the community members and members of the Valley Civic Association who put up the monument.
“I would not want to move the monument until conversations happen again,” Casalino said, adding that it is the mayor’s decision to remove the monument, but it “means a lot of things to a lot of people.”
She continued that when Italian Americans talk about Christopher Columbus, it is not about what he did, but about the plight of Italian immigrants coming to the United States in the 19th century. And in West Orange, Casalino said that there is a history of immigrants who worked in the Berg Hat Factory and the Edison Battery Building.
Casalino said that she will keep promoting conversations, with the hope of being respectful of everyone’s feelings and suggested placing a historical marker, like the Anna Easter Brown marker near the West Orange Public Library and others placed throughout Main Street, to teach people about the history of the neighborhood and its residents.
The next virtual town council meeting will be on July 14 at 6:30 p.m.