At Monday’s Schenectady City Council meeting (March 12, 2018), the issue of Bringing Lady Liberty Home was the subject of my “privilege of the floor” comments to the Council and Mayor. The collage at the right of this paragraph is the handout that I gave to our elected representatives, to remind them that the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan they approved in 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206) clearly included the return of the Statue of Liberty replica to her home at Gateway Plaza. There are no safety or financial reasons to alter that Plan. I basically told the Council: This is easy for you: Ask the Mayor to implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan as written — that is, with Lady Liberty brought back home. [For a full discussion of the issues, process, etc., see our prior post, “Bring Lady Liberty Home“, which has links to relevant documents and lots of photos; and see the actual Implementation Plan, the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza.]
In the past, Schenectady Mayors have used experts — consultant engineers or Corporation Counsel (their in-house mouthpiece) — to justify going back on pledges to preserve parts of Schenectady’s history. Monday evening, Gary McCarthy repeated his refrain that “no final decision has been made yet”, but then added that the Gateway Plaza “design team” recommended not returning the Liberty Statue replica to Liberty/Gateway Plaza. Later that night, I wrote to the members of the Counsel to remind them:
“The ironic thing about the Design Team excuse is that Mary Moore Wallinger, with her LAndArt Studio, has been the primary designer throughout this entire process; was author of the Implementation Plan; and is responsible for construction documents and construction administration. In 2012-2013, Mary never wavered, but showed Lady Liberty back at Gateway Plaza after construction, in every alternative presented to the Steering Committee, Public Design Workshops, and City Council.” [and, on the cover of the Plan; see detail to the left, with a blue asterisk placed above Liberty’s planned relocation.]
. . click on thumbnails above for collages of [L] Lady Liberty in 2016; [R] Gateway Plaza, March 2018 . .
The Lady Fits. When did the “design team” change its/her mind and start saying that Lady Liberty is too small to fit in, and is not contemporary enough to fit in, at Gateway Plaza? The following rendering of the proposed (and later adopted) view of the Plaza as seen from Washington Avenue and State Street shows, in my opinion, that Lady Liberty fits in well, giving us continuity with our history and a continuing message of welcome that is most relevant to our present and future. (click on the image for a larger version)
The 100-inch-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty, sitting atop its base, is neither inadequate as a statue or sculpture, nor obtrusive in style, so as to somehow mar or overcome the “contemporary” feel now being stressed by Ms. Wallinger. The Implementation Plan she authored in 2012 and promoted to City Council in 2013, declared that Gateway Plaza is meant to “celebrate the City’s past, present and future.” Our Statue of Liberty does that in a timeless style and dauntless spirit — a spirit of welcome and inclusion that more than ever needs to be highlighted, and a spirit of freedom that is always fresh and yet always needs to be renewed.
A few salient points:
- Riggi. At the March 13 City Council meeting, Councilman Vince Riggi (Ind.) pointed out the appropriateness of having Lady Liberty in a Gateway welcoming people to Schenectady, just as the original Statue of Liberty has welcomed tens of millions from its perch in New York Harbor. The National Parks webpage on the Statue of Liberty states: “The symbol of American freedom and opportunity, Lady Liberty has long been a beacon to those seeking refuge on our shores.” Riggi also reminded the Council that he was assured that the Statue would be returned to her original home after construction just seven months ago, by the City’s Commissioner of Operations.
- History. Lady Liberty would be the only vertical (above-ground) element in the Plaza Plan that refers to Schenectady’s history. The two historic markers [out of seven] that have been salvaged and returned to the Park are recessed in the sidewalk, hard to find and difficult to read. (see the greenish marker in the photo to the left) And, the “Historic Railroad Pedestrian Way” included along the east side of the Plaza refers to an “underground railway” of short duration that may be little-known because of its historical insignificance, and is to most residents a minor curiosity.
- Porterfield: At the Council Meeting on March 12, Council member Marion Porterfield stated the City should listen to those who live near the Park/Plaza, and noted that she has seen nothing indicating that the Mayor had changed the Plan regarding Lady Liberty; she also pointed out that this is not a matter of favoring one neighborhood over another. [Ed. note: Last year, when City Council voted to alienate a piece of Riverside Park for use as a pumping station, it “substituted” land at Gateway Plaza, tying the Stockade even closer to that new Park.]
- Gillen: Has the Mayor made a final decision? On February 26, 2018, Ray Gillen, Chair Metroplex, wrote in response to an email asking about the markers and monuments that had been in Liberty Park that, “The Statue of Liberty is being relocated by the City and will likely be located in a another City park in the spring.” The finality of that statement should be a reminder that those opposed to the exile of Lady Liberty must speak out now and loudly.
My message to the Council on Monday is not a new one: Your Resolutions need to be implemented and the Council needs to fulfill its oversight role to see that the Executive Branch of City government follows the policies made by the Council.
- Sunshine Week. As the Gazette‘s opinion page editor, Mark Mahoney, has been reminding us, we are currently celebrating Sunshine Week. We need open government and the people need to know that they have access to information that will shed light on the workings of their government and leaders. When thinking about the importance of following through on the treatment of Lady Liberty in the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, I hope our Council members and our Mayor, along with the Plaza design team, will ask themselves “What good are sunshine laws and policy if an open design process, with community input and support, and approval by City Council, can be undone secretly a few years later by the Mayor, just before an Implementation Plan is completed?”
Raise Your Voice. So, please, if you agree that Lady Liberty belongs back home at Gateway/Liberty Plaza, let Mayor McCarthy and the entire City Council know you have neither seen nor heard anything that justifies not following through on the original, adopted Implementation Plan, which made so much sense and was fully supported at the Public Workshops. The Mayor and Designer Mary Wallinger have misled the good folks who support a Veterans’ Memorial at Steinmetz Park, by acting as if Lady Liberty’s future in Schenectady had not yet been decided; they need to come up with a suitable alternative at Steinmetz Park for the values and history represented by Lady Liberty.
- Mayor Gary McCarthy – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ed Kosiur – email@example.com, City Council President
- John Polimeni – firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Leesa Perazzo – email@example.com, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan
- Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, chair of the Council Planning and Development Committee
- John Mootooveren – firstname.lastname@example.org, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
- Marion Porterfield – email@example.com,
- Vincent Riggi – firstname.lastname@example.org
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follow-up (March 21, 2018): Yesterday afternoon, at the Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society, I found a few items in the Schenectady Gazette I want to share:
- In his Tales of Old Dorp column (April 22, 1986), historian Gary Hart wrote: Larry Hart wrote in his Gazette column in 1986: “By the way, the green triangle was named Liberty Park after the monument.” (emphasis added) This really is Her Park.
- At the time the final Plan was being put together an article headlined “Schenectady’s Liberty Park seen as gateway, college area,” (Bethany Bump, June 13, 2012, B3) reported:
“Residents, on the other hand, expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty.
“The Lady Liberty replica that has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”
And, in an article titled “Passing the Torch” (by Jeff Wilkin, Oct. 27, 2002), I learned that Schenectady Boy Scouts and area Veterans’ groups held annual rededication ceremonies at Lady Liberty in October for decades. A National Boy Scout of American leader is quoted saying that very few cities hold rededication ceremonies and he was very pleased with Schenectady’s efforts. An primary organizer of the events noted that they were held to help commemorate Schenectady’s immigrants, whose first sight of America so often was of the original Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.