De Blasio Praises Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Immense Contributions’ But Lauds Removal of Statue

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A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands in New York’s City Hall Council Chamber on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Thomas Jefferson is no longer holding court in the New York City Council — and Mayor Bill de Blasio believes that’s for the better.

The mayor on Tuesday welcomed the removal of a historic Jefferson statue from the Council chamber, declaring that the Founding Father’s “profoundly contradictory” beliefs on slavery means he has no place in the ornate room.

Speaking one day after the 884-pound statue was packed up and carted off from City Hall, de Blasio praised Jefferson’s “immense contributions to this country,” but also sided with a chorus of City Council members who pushed for the relic to be removed. “There was a full debate, and the Council made this request. It’s their chamber. I want to respect that,” de Blasio said.

“Thomas Jefferson is a profoundly important figure in American history, who was also profoundly contradictory. Anyone who owned slaves — there’s a fair critique, to say the least. But he also made immense contributions to this country and to some of the best values that permeate the world today.”

Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, voiced opposition to the enslavement of Black people in his day, denouncing it as a “moral depravity” that could threaten the existence of the U.S. But at the same time, Jefferson is believed to have owned as many as 600 slaves.

Members of the Council began to call for the removal of Jefferson’s statue last year amid nationwide racial justice protests. The city Public Design Commission, which is made up of de Blasio appointees, voted last month to banish the statue and hand it over to the New York Historical Society, which is expected to keep it in its lobby.

The removal of the statue — which was first erected in the Council chamber in 1883 — prompted an outcry from conservatives across the country, who claimed it sets a bad precedent.

“They would rationalize destroying the Statue of Liberty for encouraging a risky ideology,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky.

But de Blasio waved off the right-wing critique. “I don’t think it sets a dangerous precedent at all,” he said. “I just think we should look at these situations and then move on because the issue to me is not the past or the statue — it’s where we’re going, and I think we can have a much better conversation about where we’re going. That’s where my focus is.”