Lightfoot denies making obscene, derogatory remark about Italian Americans

“I feel compelled to state that the deeply offensive and ridiculous claims are wholly lacking in merit,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a written statement issued Friday.

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Christopher Columbus statue found at Arrigo Park at 801 S. Loomis St., Thursday, June 11, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Christopher Columbus statue was removed from Arrigo Park at 801 S. Loomis St., was removed in July 2020.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday branded as “deeply offensive,” “ridiculous” and “wholly lacking in merit” the claim that she made an obscene and derogatory remark against Italian Americans during a call to discuss the statue of Christopher Columbus removed from Arrigo Park.

One day after refusing to comment on the allegation contained in a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Park District’s former deputy general counsel, Lightfoot said she felt “compelled” to break with her longstanding practice of not commenting about pending litigation.

“I am deeply offended by the ridiculous and outrageous allegations in that lawsuit and the suggestion that, somehow, I hold animus towards Italians and Italian Americans. Nothing could ever be further from the truth,” Lightfoot said, during a taping of the WBBM-AM Radio program, “At Issue,” to be broadcast at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

“I look forward to the facts being proven in a court of law and really underscoring the fact that this lawsuit has zero merit.”

The Columbus statue was taken away on Lightfoot’s orders in 2020 after it became the target of protests and vandalism. The statue is the property of the Chicago Park District, which was sued by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans seeking the statue’s return.

The comment that incensed Ron Onesti, president of the civic committee, was allegedly made during a video call the mayor had the evening of Columbus Day with several people, including two park district attorneys, after she killed a deal the district had made with Onesti’s group to allow the statue to be displayed at the Columbus Day parade, according to the lawsuit.

That deal was described in the lawsuit filed Wednesday by one of the park district officials on the video call, former Deputy General Counsel George Smyrniotis, who alleged he was given 10 minutes notice of the call with the mayor, which occurred the night after the parade.

On the call, according to the lawsuit, Lightfoot berated Smyrniotis and Park District General Counsel Timothy King.

“You d--ks, what the f--- were you thinking?” Lightfoot is quoted as saying in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Lightfoot went on to accuse King and Smyrniotis of making “some kind of secret agreement with Italians, what you are doing, you are out there measuring your d--ks with the Italians seeing whose got the biggest d--k. ... I am trying to keep Chicago Police officers from being shot and you are trying to get them shot. My d--k is bigger than yours and the Italians, I have the biggest d--k in Chicago.”

The mayor, Smyrniotis claims in the lawsuit, went on to defame him, making “rude, insulting, false, and disrespectful statements” that he “lacked an ability to perform his job duties,” asking, among other things: “Where did you go to law school? Did you even go to law school? Do you even have a law license?”

Onesti had demanded that Lightfoot apologize for making what he called “vulgar” and “offensive” remarks about Italian Americans.

On Friday, Onesti cast doubt on the veracity of the mayor’s denial.

“I have acknowledged that these are allegations. But there’s no reason not to believe two legitimate members of the legal community, each having career standing for more than 20 years. ... They are respected and legitimate members of the legal community and they have notes,” Onesti said.

He added, “She’s not apologizing. She’s explaining it away. ... The issue is being dodged here.”

Onesti argued that Lightfoot’s claim that she “never have and never will harbor any animus toward Italians or Italian Americans” is contradicted by her actions. His organization and others have been “trying to get a meeting with her for over two years,” only to be ignored, he said.

“This didn’t begin as clamoring for statues. We were asking for a meeting to discuss the issue and the plan about bringing the statue back. And we couldn’t even get the respect of a callback. That’s why the whole lawsuit happened in the first place. She forced our hand because there was no response,” Onesti said.

“We want a meeting with her. We want to discuss issues that are affecting our community. Any other community would get an audience with her. And we can’t get that.”

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