Photo Courtesy of Sen. Addabbo’s Office
“I find it odd and questionable that ‘She Built NYC’ would ask the public to nominate women they would like to see honored and then not include, but actually ignore, the public’s overwhelming winner,” Sen. Addabbo wrote.
By Michael V. Cusenza
State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) recently fired off a probing letter to City First Lady Chirlane McCray demanding that McCray and her selection panel for the “She Built NYC” initiative explain why they seemingly snubbed the people’s choice, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini.
Launched in June 2018, “She Built NYC,” according to McCray, is a new effort to commission a public monument or artwork on City property that honors women’s history in New York City. The program is supposed to build on the recommendations of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers to expand the stories, histories, and narratives represented on public property in the Big Apple. These representations have historically failed to reflect the trailblazing women that have contributed to the five boroughs, the First Lady noted.
As Addabbo pointed out in his Aug. 22 missive to McCray, “Mother Cabrini received 219 votes, more than double the second-place vote recipient, Jane Jacobs (93). However, Mother Cabrini was not included in those selected to have a statue built in their honor.”
Instead, according to a New York Post report, the panel picked 19th century civil rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham, jazz singer Billie Holiday, abortion rights activist Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, and transgender advocate Sylvia Rivera.
“I find it odd and questionable that ‘She Built NYC’ would ask the public to nominate women they would like to see honored and then not include, but actually ignore, the public’s overwhelming winner,” wrote Addabbo, who is president of the Conference of Italian-American Slate Legislators. “I, along with some of those who voted for Mother Cabrini, would like an explanation as to why she was not part of the final selection and respectfully urge your reconsideration of Mother Cabrini.”
Cabrini helped establish the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, taking in orphans and foundlings, opened a day school to help pay expenses, started classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn a little more money. The institute started seven homes and a free school and nursery in its first five years.
Cabrini organized catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants and provided for the needs of the many orphans in NYC. She established schools and orphanages despite tremendous odds. Cabrini also founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital. In the 1980s, they were merged into Cabrini Medical Center.
Cabrini set up 67 institutions: in New York; Chicago and Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver and Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and in countries throughout South America and Europe.
“Mother Cabrini’s contributions to New York City and the burgeoning immigrant community cannot be overlooked,” Addabbo added.
City Hall did not reply to The Forum’s request for comment on the matter.
“There are big gaps in our City’s public art, with few statues of women, trans and gender-nonconforming people,” McCray said last summer. “The message that lack of representation sends is that these people have no value and did not make contributions to our city. This first step we are taking will help us more accurately show the diversity in the people who helped make New York City so great.”