McKinley statue fuss goes national

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – As the 2018 Farmers’ Market opened amid music, sunshine and smiles on the Plaza Saturday morning, the statue of President William McKinley went about his business just as he has for 112 years. Towering over and glowering at the happy people all around him, Big Bronze Bill gave no indication that he was aware of the heated controversy surrounding his expulsion from the town square by the City Council.

For everyone else, it was hard to miss. Social media was on fire with comment that didn’t much resemble the new era of healing and dignity which anti-statue advocates have predicted will come to pass on McKinley’s departure, while conservative media outlets including Fox News, Breitbart and the Wall Street Journal siezed on the statue as a culture war talking point.

Meanwhile, those seeking to put the statue matter to a vote this November were eagerly awaiting City Attorney Nancy Diamond’s ballot title and summary so they could start petitioning. Update: those items were received Monday, with signature-gathering to begin this week. – Ed.

Several Fox News shows had their way with the statue crisis as part of its ongoing leftists-run-amok theme, perhaps most notably perpetually outraged host Tucker Carlson. Repeatedly rferring to the town as “Ar-COT-a,” Carlson had leading anti-statue City Councilmember Paul Pitino on as a guest.

In a Skype interview from his H Street home, Pitino explained the rationale for his decision.

While Carlson initially notified Pitino that “I’m sure you’ve done some pretty bad things; I can just tell,” the mild-mannered councilmember apparently failed to fulfill the Fox host’s expectations of a leftist firebrand. Pitino said  he saw McKinley’s good and bad points, but that on balance, the current City Council was “correcting a 112-year-old error of judgment” by the 1906 council.

“I don’t think any human being deserves a statue,” Pitino said. “When you put up a human, you’re always going to have problems.”

“I don’t think any human being deserves a statue,” Pitino said. “When you put up a human, you’re always going to have problems.”

That resonated with Carlson’s populist skepticism about ennobling politicians with monuments.

“You’re kind of winning me over a little bit with that argument,” Carlson said. “We shouldn’t be honoring politicians, Even the good ones are not that good,” he added, though he referred to it as “kind of an Islamic point, but still a pretty good point.”

Carlson further faulted Pitino for the council action on the statue via use of the popular Tu Quoque logical fallacy, asking whether the council had solved all of Arcata’s other problems first. “No one chooses microwave burritos over Brussels Sprouts?” Carlson asked.

But Pitino also endorsed in principle the initiative process now being pursued by citizen David LaRue and Councilmember Michael Winkler, among others. Pitino said that if citizens don’t like the council’s action, they can put it to a vote.  “It can be simply a thousand signatures and it will be on the ballot,” Pitino said.

For her part, Mayor Sofia Pereira turned down three separate requests to appear on Fox News, preferring instead to immerse herself in city issues – including scraping garbage out of the feces-infested trash pits of Valley West.

Petition backer and creator of the “Let the People Vote on the McKinley Statue” Facebook page David LaRue also appeared on Fox & Friends, where he confidently predicted that, with regard to the council’s statue decision, “We are going to stop it.”

LaRue subsequently said he won’t be talking on the record to the press any more, instead focusing on acquiring valid petition signatures once the ballot title and summary are approved.

If it is, the petitioners will have until May 29 to collect 961 valid signatures to ensure ballot placement,

“I condemn any racist statements by people who claim to support us. I condemn white supremacy and don’t want support from white supremacists. I don’t consider any racial or ethnic group to be superior to another. From our point of view, our campaign is to put the decision on the statue in the hands of the citizens through a binding ballot measure. I don’t believe that the decision to keep the statue or to support a public vote on the statue is in itself racist.”

Even Bush-era political strategist Karl Rove weighed in with a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled, “The Pitchforks Are Out for McKinley.” Rove concluded that the council’s decision was “so warped that only willful ignorance and runaway political correctness explains their destructive action.”

At the City Council meeting, citizen Joel Morrison conflated the right-wing and racist statue supporters with the overall pro-statue movement, telling Winkler he has failed to “explicitly distance yourself” from the racists.

In response, Winkler did exactly that. “I definitely don’t support racism or racist statements by our supporters,” Winkler said. “I condemn any racist statements by people who claim to support us. I condemn white supremacy and don’t want support from white supremacists. I don’t consider any racial or ethnic group to be superior to another. From our point of view, our campaign is to put the decision on the statue in the hands of the citizens through a binding ballot measure. I don’t believe that the decision to keep the statue or to support a public vote on the statue is in itself racist.”

Winkler said that he would address any racist statements made by initiative supporters, but that “I can’t control statements from people that are not connected to the campaign.”

The statue matter came up at Friday’s meeting of American legion Post 274. The post is exploring the idea of adopting McKinley when he is removed from the Plaza. While the matter has been held over for further discussion among members of American Legion Post 274, opinions voiced so far are as varied as those elsewhere in society.

Former Legion Commander Al Toste forcefully defended the statue and its placement on the Plaza. “It was a gift to the City of Arcata,” Toste said. “That’s got to go to a vote. It’s the American Way... not a dictatorship.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2542 Commander Phil Irvine said he opposed re-siting the statue at the Veterans Memorial Building, in part because he would have to clean up the inevitable vandalism it would suffer.

Legionnaire Phillip Nicklas said it would be “very appropriate” to host anti-slavery Civil War veteran McKinley at the Vets Hall. “Everyone is a mixed bag, including him,” Nicklas said.

Chaplain Leonard Shumar said re-siting McKinley away from Wiyot territory wasn’t logical because “This whole area, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, was Indian land.”

“I think democracy needs to happen,” said American Legion Post 274 Commander Jeff Sterling, who is part Siskiyou Indian. “For the City Council to take a vote from the people is wrong.”

With that, the statue matter was tabled until June, when the results of the petition drive will be known.

 







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