Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – After two days, reaction to Wednesday's Arcata City Council decision to remove the statue of President William McKinley from the Arcata Plaza features both celebration and dissent. The council had the choice to authorize the statue's removal or to let Arcata voters make the call. At the urging of Councilmember Paul Pitino and dozens of speakers that night, the council gave McKinley his marching papers.
Statue opponents have since taken rhetorical victory laps on social media, while statue supporters are claiming that pro-statue opinion wasn't given a chance to be heard, and that this resulted in the council making a decision that had widely been expected to be put before the voting public.
The Arcata City Council voted 4–1 to delete McKinley, along with the plaque designating the Jacoby Building as a historic landmark, after lengthy public testimony condemning the statue as a symbol of racism, repression, genocide, imperialism and of being an ongoing, government-sponsored insult to indigenous people. Speakers offered a mix of history, humor and caustic criticism in support of statue removal.
City Councilmember Michael Winkler, the sole elected official to support a ballot measure instead of a council decision on the matter, claims Mayor Sofia Pereira allowed a "disruptive, intolerant" mob to dominate the public process (see below). Winkler further likens the anti-McKinley forces' comportment to that of the Tea Party and President Donald Trump.
Former Arcata Mayor, Councilmember and City Manager Dan Hauser has distributed an open letter stating that the council "got rolled." He says there will be legal scrutiny of city funding for the statue's removal (see below).
A Facebook page opposing statue removal, titled "Save Arcata's Historic McKinley Statue," states that "Removing this statue is an attack on the heritage of our community. It should be decided by a vote of the people of Arcata, not four councilmembers."
Several private citizens have contacted the city to make their property available for relocation of the statue. By way of keeping the statue public, if not prominent, Jeff Sterling, American Legion Post 274 commander, has asked that post-Plaza McKinley be relocated to the Arcata Veterans Memorial Building at 1425 J St. in residential Northtown.
"He's a war veteran," Sterling said. McKinley served in the Union Army during the Civil War, gaining a field promotion for battling the Confederacy. He later became America's 25th commander in chief.
Sterling attended Wednesday's meeting, and shared the view that the council's decision was taken without benefit of democratic process. He objected to the sole pro-statue speaker, citizen Owen Moore, being repeatedly interrupted and jeered into silence by the crowd.
Sterling said one of the anti-statue activists made a "racist" remark about Moore, objectifying him as a "white guy." When Sterling objected, the activist tried to physically fight him in Council Chamber. At that, Sterling decided not to speak. Other McKinley statue supporters in attendance apparently made the same decision, leaving without incurring the wrath of the crowd by offering an unpopular view.
"Wednesday was the day I saw democracy die in Arcata," Sterling said. "It's upsetting. The thing they're fighting against is the thing they're doing – oppression."
In response to inquiries, the City of Arcata issued a press release late Friday afternoon offering a basic recitation of facts and general timeline for next steps in the historic revision to the Arcata Plaza.
The city estimates Plaza de-McKinleying costs at between $40,000 to $65,000. Removal will require a General Plan amendment and Environmental Impact Report, creation and processing of which is estimated to take eight months, including public review.
Opponents to statue removal have the option of qualifying a ballot initiative advising the council to revisit or revise its decision. Further, any of the council members who voted in the majority, to remove the statue, may request "The Motion to Reconsider." that could involve a re-vote, but it's far from clear that any of the councilmembers are willing to do so, or to change their vote. Two vote changes would be required to flip the decision from 4–1 in favor of removal to 3–2 against.
The public correspondence so far:
Letter from City Councilmember Michael Winkler to Mayor Sofia Pereira
I was appalled by the lynch mob/vigilante atmosphere that prevailed at the last City Council meeting. There was an atmosphere of extreme self-righteousness and harassment and intolerance for people expressing an opposing point of view.
I heard people advocating for the mob to tear down the statue if the Council didn’t act and the phrase “fuck the United States.”
Before the meeting someone had taped up a sign to each of the four sides of the base of the statue. Each sign said, “re-assassinate McKinley” and had a cartoon with a noose around McKinley’s neck and the statue being torn down. The cartoon looked just like a lynching.
Fifty years ago when I was on a bicycle trip, we rode past a house that had an effigy of a black man being hanged and a sign that said, “Protected by Smith and Wesson.” The cartoons on the McKinley statue reminded me eerily of that effigy.
For a movement that has claimed that taking down the statue will bring the community together and promote healing in the community, I saw exactly the opposite behavior at the meeting.
Beyond the outcome of any particular decision by the council a critical and pivotal element to our legitimacy and the public acceptance of our decisions as a local government is, to the greatest degree possible, for all members of the public to feel that the process is fair. This is especially critical for those members of the public on the losing side of a council decision.
I strongly personally feel and many members of the public have expressed to me their belief that because of the hostile atmosphere that we have tolerated at the council meetings on the issue of the statue that the process is unfair.
As the mayor, you have a special responsibility to maintain an atmosphere of respect for all people, but especially for those expressing points of view that are in the minority at a meeting. This is especially true when the point of view is one with which you personally disagree.
I am afraid that, on contentious issues, we have let our council meetings become the mirror image of the intolerance of Donald Trump and the Tea Party. I call on you as mayor to firmly re-establish an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for all points of view at our meetings and to sanction and refuse to accept disruptive, intolerant behavior by members of the public.
Arcata City Council
Letter from former City Councilmember Dan Hauser to the City Council
Madam Mayor and Members of the City Council:
I was disappointed and surprised to see how badly the City Council got rolled by a vocal mob on Wednesday evening. At the same time, having been in similar situations, I can understand the pressure you felt at the time.
I had assumed that you would have put the issue of the McKinley statue to a vote to allow the entire community to participate. However, now that you have made this unfortunate decision, you must make it clear to the proponents of removal that their task is far from over.
To begin with, it would be totally unfair and unreasonable to promote this effort with City funds. If the proponents are so anxious to see the Plaza changed then they must start a fund to pay for it. That would have to include the cost of the General Plan Amendment, the Environmental Impact Report and the cost of removal/relocation.
A number of us and our attorneys will be watching carefully to make sure that City funds are not misused for this project.