Just six months after winning re-election with almost 80 percent of the vote, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has stepped onto something of a political land mine by agreeing to have a statue moved for a planned conversion of Exchange Place Plaza into a park.
The statue commemorates the 1940 massacre of over 20,000 Poles at the hands of the Soviet Army. In Jersey City, where there used to be a large Polish community, the statue was a dramatic reminder, even though its powerful imagery seemed incongruous in a public plaza mostly used for festivals and concerts. That was 1991. Today, the mayor says the statue is mostly a curiosity.
“There’s no groundswell of people that live in the city that want to keep that statue there as opposed to a children’s park. So we’re doing the right thing, and anybody else who’s making accusations, that’s just politics,” he insists. “The outrage is pure politics.”
On that last point, at least, the mayor is correct. The uproar has been mostly generated by some members of the Polish legislature and some of the mayor’s staunch opponents.
“I think he should just apologize to the Polish government and to the people of the United States,” said Councilman Rich Boggiano, “because he’s moving the statue without notifying them, without notifying anybody.”
But the decision to move the statue came from the Business Improvement District that manages the plaza, with no community input. No one from the group would talk to us on Wednesday, but the mayor pushes back against those who say the decision was made in a vacuum.
“There’s very, very, very few people that are involved in the community groups down here that have indicated that they want it to stay down there,” Fulop insists. “If anything, there’s an overwhelming silent majority that wants to see it moved.”
We went to Exchange Place to find this silent majority. Except, we couldn’t, really.
“I’d like to see these people come out,” challenged Jersey City resident Frank Ortiz. “I haven’t met one of these people yet.”
“It’s a beautiful work of art. It shouldn’t be moved. It’s a constant reminder of why war is wrong,” said Mark Rodrick, who’s worked at Exchange Place since 1990. “It should be a constant reminder of the people that, specific to this area, the Polish families, who know all too well why the statue was erected.”
“A lot of bad things happened throughout history and we should be completely reminded of it,” added David, who preferred to give his first name only. “I mean, I don’t see how this is inconveniencing anybody.”
On Wednesday, Fulop said there will be community input about where the statue ultimately ends up after the park is built.
It’s unclear what the mayor was thinking when he decided to agree to move this statue in the first place, but one thing he’s done, intentionally or not, is created the city’s latest tourist attraction.