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Waterbury’s decapitated Columbus statue to get head back; mayor wants statue’s future on November ballot

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WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — News 8 has learned Waterbury’s decapitated Christopher Columbus statue could be restored within three weeks. This as the mayor announces that the statue’s ultimate fate will be on the ballot in November.

Francine Nido, the President of the Waterbury Chapter of UNICO, a national Italian-American group, says an online fundraiser to restore the vandalized statue has netted more than $5,000 so far.

“I had a restoration sculpture expert come in to evaluate the damage,” Nido said. “He is now in possession of the head.” Nido says the work is being done at no cost to the city.

Waterbury police say 22-year-old Brandon Ambrose from Port Chester, NY, turned himself in nearly two weeks after knocking the head off the statue in the early morning hours of July 4. Surveillance video showed him climbing to the top of the statue and hammering the head off.

RELATED: News 8 obtains surveillance video of the beheading of Waterbury’s Christopher Columbus statue

News of the restoration coincides with news from city hall about the fate of the statue. Mayor Neil O’Leary has asked the Board of Alderman to place a question on the November ballot for residents to decide whether the statue should remain in front of city hall or be removed.

There have been several protests at the statue this summer, mainly by people of color. They say the statue is a symbol of racism because of stories about Columbus mistreating the native peoples of the Caribbean and Americas that have not been included in many history books.

“The Native Americans — the land was taken from them,” said community activist, Athena Wagner. “Basically stolen. Raped, murdered, sex trafficked, slave trade — all of that.”

Italian American groups in the city donated the statue in the mid-’80s as a salute to Waterbury’s diverse immigrant population.

“What he brought to this world enabled all of us to then emigrate from wherever we were coming from to this country and it helped establish the Western civilization as we know it,” Nido said.

In a statement to News 9 regarding his decision to put the fate of the statue on the ballot, Mayor O’Leary said “a decision like this should be a learning moment.”

There is no doubt the fate of the Christopher Columbus statue is a decision that I’ve struggled with because of the passion and emotions on both sides.

This is the greatest country in the world because we have learned, and continue to learn from world history.

I believe a decision like this should be a learning moment. And the learning moment will be what the people of Waterbury decide, will be the fate of the Columbus statue. I will respect the wishes of the voting residents of this city as to whether Columbus stays or goes. Either way, we will make this a learning moment that will educate all of us including our youth which I hope will demonstrate to them what democracy is all about.

– Mayor Neil O’Leary/ Waterbury

The idea drew this reaction from people News 8 spoke to in front of city hall:

“I think it’s a cop-out and I think it’s his way of passing the buck,” Wagner said.

“No, he’s not,” responded Natalie Bram of Waterbury. “He’s respecting the people of Waterbury.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Sandra Plankey of Waterbury. “I’m a proponent for keeping it because it’s part of the heritage of Waterbury.”

“Let the people decide,” said Paul Wright of Waterbury, who also feels the statue issue may actually spark more people to vote in November. “Because they want it gone.”

Nido believes everyone’s voices should be heard on this issue. The Board of Aldermen will vote on the mayor’s request Monday night.

“I will be reaching out to my aldermen encouraging them to support the mayor’s decision,” Nido said. “I believe it’s fair and it gives ample voice for everyone to be heard.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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