Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday opened the door to renaming Balbo Drive and removing the Balbo monument, but slammed it shut on renaming Washington and Jackson parks.
At first, Emanuel would say only that he would “work with the City Council on making sure that the city of Chicago — what we have [in monuments and street designations] — recognizes people that also recognize our values.”
When a reporter demanded to know where the mayor stands on the monument given to Chicago by fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Emanuel got visibly annoyed and started to lose his cool.
“You don’t have to ask me what my position is on fascism. Thank you. I’m against fascism. Take a chill pill, will you?” the mayor said.
Dominic DiFrisco, president-emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, denounced the campaign to remove the monument and rename Balbo Drive as a “slap in the face” to the Italian-American community.
“Why is this sudden siege of removing statues and monuments catching on with people like Ed Burke?” Di Frisco said Wednesday.
“We are so disappointed in Ed Burke’s so-called leadership when Ed Burke, as a historian, should know that Italo Balbo was in no way wed to the Nazi cause or to the international cause of facism.”
Last week, the national furor that has prompted many southern states to tear down or cover Confederate monuments swept into Chicago, but in a different way.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported that Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Gilbert Villegas (36th) were reviving a longstanding, but so far unsuccessful, campaign to remove a monument to Italo Balbo, an Italian Air Force Marshal famous for making the first transatlantic crossing from Rome to Chicago and helping to bring Mussolini to power in 1922.
Balbo served as Mussolini’s air comandante. The monument was Mussolini’s gift to Chicago in 1933.
To “right a wrong,” the aldermen further demanded that Balbo Drive, one of the most heavily traveled streets on the lakefront, be renamed.
“I’m amazed the citizens of Chicago have not demanded that these symbols of fascism — a street and a statue bearing Balbo’s name — donated by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, a sidekick of Adolf Hitler, be removed decades ago from the city’s landscape,” Burke told Sneed.
“It is now time Chicago does something permanent about this embarrassing anomaly.”
The campaign to remove the Balbo monument and rename Balbo Drive has prompted Black Lives Matter and the Black Youth Project to demand the renaming of Jackson and Washington Parks and removal of the George Washington statue located in Washington Park.
That’s where Emanuel draws the line.
“I’m against changing the names. Those are presidents who actually worked at liberty and perfecting the union,” the mayor said of Washington and Jackson, both of whom owned plantations operated by slaves.
“President Jackson did the proclamation against nullification by South Carolina on the tariffs. It was actually cited by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural. President Jackson was also the first president to expand the Voting Rights Act to non-property holders. There’s a lot of blemishes to their record. That’s true of any president. But I’m not changing the names of that.”