Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was heckled by Polish activists during a press conference at City Hall this morning where he announced the relocation of the Katyn Memorial from Exchange Place to the end of York Street.
When the mayor first announced several weeks ago that the monument would be temporarily moved to make way for renovations at Exchange Place, it caused an outcry among several Polish-American organizations and even officials in Poland.
But after long negotiations with Polish community leaders, and even the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York, the agreement calls for the city to renovate the end of York Street into a park that will be the monument’s new home.
Fulop first made light of the deal via a tweet on Friday afternoon.
Additionally, the city will convey the new parkland to the Polish Counsel for a 99-year lease that they will control as a franchise agreement.
The mayor said that the new agreement helps the city realize two important objectives.
“The goal is to give proper respect that is due the monument, and at the same time, energize the waterfront. We’ve reached a resolution that allows the city to not only repurpose Exchange Place, but also York Street for a significant ability to be thoughtful about the atrocities that mankind is capable of committing.”
While Fulop noted the monument’s historical significance to world events, commemorating an event that took place in 1940 where approximately 20,000 Polish army officers and police officials were executed in the former Soviet Union during World War II, he also emphasized that the agreement allows the city to better utilize a unique Jersey City asset: its waterfront.
“Our intention was to make sure that the waterfront becomes a 24/7 used area. That means changing and repurposing its use. Many people may not realize how the area around Exchange Place is today being used, but the truth is is that location has hosted for the last 20 years festivals, celebrations and happy occasions,” he explained.
“So most people didn’t really understand or recognize the significance of the monument being there during those celebrations.
Also, the mayor was booed several times during the press conference by Polish-Americans who don’t want to see the memorial moved from its current location at Exchange Place.
In fact, the lawyer representing them, Slawek Platta, also a Senate candidate in New York, approached the podium as the mayor was speaking – reacting by telling Platta that he needed to back up – before a member of the mayor’s security team stepped in to make sure the situation didn’t escalate.
While the booing persisted, someone asked the Mayor what legal authority does the city have to relocate the monument.
“Referencing New Jersey state law, a resolution [to keep the monument at Exchange Place] doesn’t have standing once an ordinance is in place. The only way to undo an ordinance is a subsequent ordinance. A resolution has no standing in that situation,” Fulop said.
“As I’ve noted, I have talked with the City Council about the first reading of a [new] ordinance to designate the area at the end of York Street [as a park] and convey the land over for a period of 99 years. This will be done in an ordinance fashion, which is legally the proper way to do it and achieve the goal,” Fulop said.
Fulop left after about a half hour, leading to the loudest, most intense heckling from the crowd, who repeatedly chanted “shame! shame! shame!” as the mayor made a hasty exit from the council chambers.
Platta briefly addressed the crowd that remained before city spokeswoman Hannah Peterson unplugged the podium microphone.
The council is expected to address the ordinance at the next scheduled council meeting on Wednesday, May 23.
You can watch below the entire press conference that we lived streamed onto our Facebook Page: