NEW YORK — Actor Chazz Palminteri called in to “The Brian Lehrer Show” Friday to bicker with Mayor Bill de Blasio about an Italian-American saint and deny he called first lady Chirlane McCray racist.
WNYC listeners got more than they bargained for during the roughly 10-minute sparring match that started with the Bronx-born actor demanding the city build a statue of Mother Frances Cabrini.
Cabrini — the patron saint of immigrants who founded several hospitals and orphanages — is not among the seven women set to be honored with new sculptures through the city’s She Built NYC initiative despite receiving more nominations than any other figure.
“I saw the other names that were being brought up and (they are) very accomplished women and they deserve a statute, absolutely,” said Palminteri, who’s best known as the author and star of “A Bronx Tale.”
“But Mr. Mayor, how could we just disregard Mother Cabrini and say, ‘OK, she’s out and these other seven are in?'”
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Four of the women of whom the city plans to erect statues are black, while two are Latina and one is white. The group includes former U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the jazz singer Billie Holiday and transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
De Blasio called Cabrini an “outstanding figure” who will likely get a statue in the second round of She Built NYC, which is spearheaded by his wife.
But he also fired back at Palminteri for calling McCray racist because the city initially snubbed the saint.
“I know you’re a good person, but you just don’t call someone a racist because they tried to address a historic wrong,” the Democratic mayor said. “The effort she was a part of created statues for white people, black people, Latino people, straight people, gay people, all five boroughs. That’s not racist, so get it together.”
Palminteri apologized to the mayor but claimed he did not directly call McCray racist — even though there’s a recording of him saying so.
The actor said he only responded in the affirmative when asked whether McCray’s decisions looked like racism. But he actually used the term in responding to a host on WABC last Friday. “Absolutely, she is being racist,” he said then.
“I would like you to tell your wife I apologize for saying — using the word racism,” Palminteri told de Blasio. “All I’m saying is … there is a woman who has done more work, so much that she’s a patron saint of immigrants. See what you can do.”
De Blasio thanked Palminteri for the apology and blamed the New York Post — one of his favorite punching bags — for the dustup.
The paper accurately quoted Palminteri in its Sunday report on his comments on WABC. But the mayor nonetheless said the tabloid “doesn’t traffic in fact” and accused it of trying “to divide us and to misrepresent.”
WNYC host Brian Lehrer gave Palminteri much more time to go toe-to-toe with the mayor than most callers who get on his Friday morning shows.