WEST ORANGE, NJ — In 1992, West Orange Mayor Sam Spina said in a West Orange Chronicle article that he was against Christopher Columbus being blamed for the "ills of the world" and that "revisionist history [would] not be tolerated from those who honor Columbus.”
This week, Mayor Robert Parisi, who recently has acknowledged Columbus' troubling history, gave the order to remove the Columbus monument, which has stood on the intersection of Valley Road, Quimbey Place and Kingsley Street for almost 28 years.
Several residents, including Lois Reichert, commented on the monument's removal at Tuesday's West Orange Township Council meeting.
"The public was not given the opportunity to be heard," said Reichert, who is in support of the monument. She continued that she was concerned about the way Parisi handled the removal of the monument, claiming that the monument had been taken away by the West Orange Department of Public Works (DPW) with the utmost secrecy and that there was a conflict of interest by getting members of the UNICO Chapter of Orange/West Orange Chapter involved because Council President Michelle Casalino and Councilman Jerry Guarino are current members of the chapter.
Business Administrator John Sayers confirmed that the monument had been taken by the DPW, but that it was picked up by the family of Joseph Dorey, who owns the monument.
Councilwoman Susan McCartney also added that UNICO National was heavily involved and at the time that the monument was dedicated on Oct. 10, 1992, past Orange/West Orange UNICO President John DiNapoli was present.
West Orange resident Akil Khalfani said that he was "thankful that the voices of the people were heard--at least in part--and that [the monument] was removed."
He continued that he believed that the monument's replacement should be one that represents the diversity of West Orange or even one that represents the contributions of indigenous populations to the township.
While the council president was supportive of the mayor's decision to remove the monument, she said that she wished there was more conversation about it before its removal.
"Many residents are upset because … the monument was about the people of that neighborhood and there are people that are still there," she said.
Casalino continued that she appreciated the comments from residents who suggested putting a statue that represents the diversity of West Orange, but that it does not need to go in the same particular spot as where the Columbus monument once stood.
Thanks to the ongoing marker program, headed by Town Historian and Public Information Officer Joseph Fagan, Casalino said that money has been raised to recognize historical landmarks and people who contributed to the township, including Anthony Tompkins whose marker will go on Main Street sometime this year.
"As far as in this spot and this particular place, the reason why that monument went up was because of all the people that worked so hard in the Valley Civic Organization" Casalino said. "They did a lot for the community back then … working with our police officers to keep the neighborhood safe back in the 90s.
"So, I think it'd be very disrespectful to replace something there that didn't represent that group at that time," she said. Casalino added that the monument was also representative of the many Italian immigrants who worked at the nearby Hat and Edison factories which were in the Valley.
"So I think we need to keep doing what we do right on our history in town, celebrate it and continue to make more great history with the township and that's what we'll do because we are West Orange,” she said.