The statue may be in Brooklyn, but it clearly still has some fans in Queens.
Eighteen months after it was moved from the perch outside Borough Hall it sat on since the LaGuardia administration, “Triumph of Civic Virtue” resurfaced as an issue at Tuesday night’s Community Board 9 meeting.
Supporters attended the meeting, whose leaders, including Chairman Ralph Gonzales and District Manager Mary Ann Carey, have expressed support for the statue in the past, to decry the relocation of the statue to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and its recent cleaning, allegedly at taxpayers expense, as well as a plaque that they say inaccurately portrays the controversy behind the statue.
The statue, which features a nearly naked man, representing “civic virtue,” stomping on mythological Greek sirens, representing “vice” and “corruption,” has been controversial since it first appeared in public in 1922 outside City Hall. It sparked outrage then. Mayor LaGuardia had it moved to Queens two decades later because he disliked it. The statue found a home outside Borough Hall.
But many who opposed the nudity of the man, or the representation of the female sirens, targeted the statue as immoral and sexist. The statue was also not cared for and decayed at its Kew Gardens location.
Former Borough President Claire Shulman wanted it moved. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner took up the cause, along with Shulman’s successor, Helen Marshall, in 2011. Weiner actually suggested selling it on Craigslist.
The statue was moved — with little warning — in December 2012. It found a new home in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where, according to Richard Iritano, a supporter of bringing the sculpture back to Queens, it was to be restored with public money.
Iritano and another backer, filmmaker Robert LoScalzo, both spoke at Tuesday’s CB 9 meeting, criticizing the city’s treatment of the statue and demanding that the statue be returned to Queens.
Iritano said nearly $100,000 was spent to move the statue and restore it and he is upset that instead of coming back to Queens, it will remain “exiled away” at Green-Wood Cemetery.
“Civic Virtue has finally been cleaned and restored and we the taxpayers funded this entire debacle that was costly, counterproductive and completely devoid of public consent,” Iritano said. “The newest administration at borough hall is already bent on rejecting a fair and reasonable proposal to green light Civic Virtue’s return to where it had been since 1941.”
LoScalzo pointed out that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is responsible for the statue’s former site on Queens Boulevard, proposed repairing the fountain base without the statue in a design LoScalzo called a “ruin.” The proposal was rejected, but LoScalzo said it showed how little the city cared about the site.
He implored CB 9 to join the fight to return the statue to Queens.
“I think the taxpayers got fleeced in this deal,” he said. “The statue is now cleaned and restored, and we paid for it. Let’s finish the job by bringing the statue back and restoring the fountain base to match.”
Supports are also incensed about a sign placed near the statue in the cemetery that states it “lacked the support of officials” in Queens. The statue’s supporters note that some officials, such as former Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), supported keeping the statue in the borough.
CB 9 leaders have long expressed support for the statue, which was located within their board area. Though none spoke about it at Tuesday’s meeting CB 9 leaders were quoted in a statement from the Civic Virtue Task Force.
“I don’t understand why people give this sculpture a meaning it doesn’t have,” Carey said in the statement referring to claims that it was sexist “They aren’t two women, they’re just two sirens. They have tails. I don’t know any women who have tails.”