PHILADELPHIA -- A Philadelphia City Council member and Italian American groups are suing the mayor's administration in federal court over the decision to change the name of city's Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday argues that while both groups deserve recognition, Mayor Jim Kenney “may not take action that discriminates against Italian Americans to exalt another ethnic group in its place,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The plaintiffs, who include Councilman Mark Squilla, allege that Kenney’s recent executive order renaming the October holiday fits a pattern of discrimination by the mayor against his Italian American constituents, who they say should be designated a protected class.
Also cited are efforts to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from south Philadelphia and last year's removal of a statue of ex-mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo from outside the municipal services building near City Hall after it became a target for protests.
After the Rizzo statue was removed, defenders gathered at the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza statue and protesters also arrived. The groups clashed for days before the city covered up the statue with a wooden structure and announced plans to seek to its removal.
Many Italian Americans have embraced the 15th century explorer — once hailed as the discoverer of America — as a cultural hero, but not all agree. Cities across the U.S. have scrutinized Columbus' legacy in recent years, accelerated by protests against racial injustice that began last sprint in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
In ordering the holiday’s name changed, Kenney said in a proclamation that the story of Christopher Columbus was “deeply complicated,” adding that the explorer “enslaved indigenous people, and punished individuals who failed to meet his expected service through violence and, in some cases, murder.”;
Philadelphia is not the first city to strip Columbus' name from the October holiday to instead recognize Native Americans — Los Angeles, Denver and Austin, Texas, are among the municipalities to make the switch.
Back in Philadelphia, the plaintiffs also allege discrimination in the designation of prioritized neighborhoods for distribution of coronavirus vaccines, something the city has said targeted areas and groups with low vaccination rates.
On Tuesday, Kenney called the lawsuit “a patently meritless political ploy" and said it will “waste precious resources at a time when we are trying to both deal with devastating pandemic and work to build a safer and more equitable city for all residents.”