A new lawsuit filed on Tuesday alleges that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot blocked a deal reached between the Chicago Park District and an Italian American group regarding a Christopher Columbus statue, and that she berated lawyers with obscene remarks in a meeting.
The lawsuit, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, was filed by former Chicago Park District deputy general counsel George Smyrniotis, naming Lightfoot and the City of Chicago as the defendants. The statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park was the subject of frequent protests during the summer of 2020, when the US saw civil unrest grip many major cities.
The lawsuit alleges that Smyrniotis was told by the district's then top lawyer Timothy King and then-superintendent Michael Kelly that they wanted a previous lawsuit over the Columbus settled "as soon as possible."
Smyrniotis said he worked with lawyers for the Italian Americans to reach a deal. As part of the negotiations, the group said they wanted to display a Columbus statue in its annual Columbus parade last fall, proposing to place the statue last in the parade, keeping it covered until the end.
Columbus has long been a source of pride for the Italian American community in the United States as he was seen as an indicator of the Italian contribution to the nation.
The suit said that King approved the request because the Park District believed it would generate goodwill with the Italian Americans, according to the Chicago Tribune.
At the same time, the district and the group were negotiating a deal to remove the statue from the city completely.
"When Lightfoot learned about the plan, Smyrniotis alleges in his lawsuit, she threatened to pull the permit for the parade and ordered Park District officials to attend a hastily called Zoom meeting," the Chicago Tribune reported.
It was at this Zoom meeting that Smyrniotis alleges Lightfoot "proceeded to berate and defame" the lawyers and asked them, "Where did you go to law school? Did you even go to law school? Do you even have a law license?"
Lightfoot told the lawyers that they had to submit their pleadings to a city lawyer for approval and were told "not to do a f*cking thing with that statute without my approval."
"Get that f*cking statue back before noon tomorrow or I am going to have you fired," Lightfoot said, according to the complaint.
It was during this meeting that Lightfoot made obscene remarks towards Smyrniotis and King, who allegedly called them "d*cks" and asked "what the f*ck were you thinking?" according to the lawsuit.
"You make some kind of secret agreement with Italians. ... You are out there stroking your d*cks over the Columbus statue, I am trying to keep Chicago police officers from being shot and you are trying to get them shot," Lightfoot said, according to the complaint. "My d*ck is bigger than yours and the Italians, I have the biggest d*ck in Chicago."
Lightfoot had removed the Columbus statue after it became a focal point of protests.
"Smyrniotis asserts the alleged comments defamed him by imputing that he lacked the ability to perform his job duties. He resigned from the Park District last month, according to the lawsuit. King has also since left the Park District," the Chicago Tribune reported.
Smyrniotis' lawsuit is the latest to come out since Lightfoot decision in 2020 to remove Columbus statues from Chicago's public spaces.
This lawsuit is closely related to another case brought forward by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans against the Park District after Lightfoot removed Columbus statues from the city
Last July, The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Park District stating that the district had violated a deal signed in 1973 to display the Columbus statue in Little Italy when it took down the statue in Summer 2020.
Lightfoot has previously said that she ordered the removal of these statues after protestors attempted to tear one down in Grant Park, resulting in clashes with police officers.
Nearly a week after protestors attempted to tear it down, the Columbus statues on Grant Park and Little Italy were removed. Another lesser-known statue was removed in the South Chicago neighborhood later.
Enrico Mirabelli, attorney for the Italian Americans, said he believes Smyrniotis’ allegations strengthen his case.
"Presuming the mayor has been accurately quoted, her comments give proof to the claim that she has wrongfully interfered with my client’s contract with the Chicago Park District in a degree that is unprecedented," Mirabelli said.
President of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans Ron Onesti said he’s "literally outraged that someone in her position would ever use words like that to refer to any group of individuals."
"When will it end with the disrespect?" Onesti said, referring to the mayor’s alleged comments as "grotesque."
That lawsuit claims that Columbus statue committee paid the Park District more than $10,000 in 1973 "for the purpose of maintaining in perpetuity" the Columbus statue.
Initially, that lawsuit did not name Lightfoot or the city as defendants, but a judge later granted this after the Italian Americans committee recently argued that the mayor should be added because of her actions ordering the statue’s removal. The lawsuit also claims that Lightfoot continued to interfere with the contract.