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New Haven faces third lawsuit for removal of Christopher Columbus statue

This time, the plaintiffs say they have something the other two lawsuits didn't.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Saturday will mark three years since the City of New Haven removed the Christopher Columbus statue in Wooster Square Park. Now, a group of Italian-Americans are suing the city, claiming the action was done unlawfully.

The people filing the suit are with The Italian-American Defense League, along with Ralph Macarelli. 

"This is where our community developed and where there were some who came without anything and built their lives in New Haven," said Matthew Guarnieri, President of the Italian-American Defense League. "And I could walk the same streets, the same area that they walked. And that makes me feel connected to the past. And this is a way we're showing our appreciation to them."

For more than a century the statue stood tall in the park. But on June 24th, 2020, city leaders took it down. More than 50 people protested against the act.

"They felt in shock, and they felt betrayal," Guarnieri said.

Now, his organization is filing a lawsuit against the city, with Attorney Norm Pattis leading the charge.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims the city acted: "Secretly, without a public hearing, public notice, a meaningful opportunity to be heard, or even a right to be heard at all, the defendants acted violated the plaintiffs’ right to due process of law."

"They typically need to post a notice of a meeting, put the item on the agenda, have a meeting and then vote on it. That's how we assure people can be heard and that those who make decisions are accountable," said Attorney Norm Pattis, representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

However, Pattis said in this case, that didn't happen.

But shortly after, Mayor Justin Elicker did appoint a committee made up of Italian-Americans, among other cultures. The committee designed a new statute, with an Italian-American family making its way to the U.S. Elicker said it's "inspiring." The committee got that plan approved by the Board of Alders, and now they're raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to build the new statue. 

At this time, there is no timeline for when that process will be complete. 

"I think what's important is that we move beyond the removal of the statue and really kind of come around this new vision for honoring New Haven's Italian heritage," Elicker said. 

Elicker said two other lawsuits have come at them for the same thing in the past, but failed. 

"It's a waste of city resources. It's a waste of city time, it's a waste of money, Elicker said. 

But Pattis argues they have something the other lawsuits didn't.

"The court in prior cases concluded that no individual had demonstrated injury in fact. So we have a local homeowner who felt that the value of his property and the desirability of his neighborhood were diminished," Pattis said.

Guarnieri hopes that will differentiate them, and bring them to justice.

"If you look at the day the statue was dedicated in 1892, for the first time, Italian immigrants felt accepted," Guarnieri said.

The goal of the group is to get the Columbus statute back on its pedestal. 

"With the proper markings that explain the historical context of 1892. It is a window into our past. Physically, Italian-Americans, they can go to that statue and feel that physical connection to the past where our ancestors once stood humbled to be Americans," Guarnieri said.

Guarnieri said they're also okay with the idea of putting the Columbus statue back, and putting the new statue next to it. 

"The new statue showing the immigrant family, that's a reflection of a moment in 2020, when Americans were re-evaluating their history. And that deserves a place and a narrative of New Haven. But, the dedication of the Columbus monument in 1892, that also deserves a place and a space in this park," Guarnieri said. 

At this time, the city is not disclosing where the Columbus statue is being kept. 

As for what's next with the lawsuit, the legal process will carry out and if they have to, Pattis said they will bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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