- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - Black leaders want the city to halt the relocation of a statue of African American inventor Lewis Howard Latimer from outside the downtown government center to the University of Bridgeport.

“It makes no sense to me,” said state Sen. Marilyn Moore. “It was a huge investment. Everybody loved it. Every time I walk by it I just stop to look at it.”

George Mintz, president of the city’s NAACP branch and of Juneteenth of Fairfield County, Inc., which annually commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States, said the statue “should not be moved.”

Mintz said Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration should solicit opinions at a public hearing on the fate of the statue.

Mintz, Moore and others were reacting Monday to a weekend report by Hearst Connecticut Media about a months-long effort within City Hall to move Latimer’s bronze likeness.

The son of slaves, Latimer was a 19th Century inventor living in the South End who, according to a brief biography on the public library’s website, “many believe . to be the actual inventor of the modern light bulb” rather than Thomas Edison. The statue features Latimer holding up a light bulb.

Mintz said Latimer is a well-rounded role model for youth - “he was into government, civil rights, poetry” - and the winners of an annual Juneteenth student science competition at government center are referred to as “future Latimers.”

The statue was commissioned in 2015 by then-Mayor Bill Finch and installed in the plaza outside of the government center, renamed a few years ago after the first black member of the state House of Representatives, Margaret E. Morton.

Ganim’s administration determined that the $66,000 spent on the statue was taken from a $1 million state grant intended for certain neighborhood groups to beautify their streets. So, City Hall decided, to rectify the situation, the statue should be moved to one of those neighborhoods, preferably the South End.

A tentative decision was made to loan the statue to UB to place outside of the South End academic institution’s engineering and technology building at University and Myrtle avenues.

Moore, a UB alum, said more people will see the statue in its current location.

Latimer didn’t have any connection to UB.,” Joel Hurliman of Shelton, a member of the Juneteenth board, said. “It wasn’t there yet.”

City officials have argued UB will ensure the statue is maintained and protected from vandalism.

Mintz said people he has spoken to are not “buying” the Ganim administration’s argument that the statue must be moved because of how it was paid for.

“This doesn’t make sense,” he said.

City Hall has not offered up any evidence that it is under pressure by either the state or by neighborhood groups to relocate Latimer or somehow forfeit the balance of the $1 million grant or face other penalties.

Finch - whose name is also featured at the base of Latimer’s statue - competed with Ganim in a bitter 2015 Democratic mayoral primary, and had an ongoing feud with UB that his successor has sought to patch-up. But there is no evidence that politics is playing a role in the Latimer move, either.

Moore said if the issue is truly Finch’s inappropriate expenditure of $66,000 out of a state grant, then Ganim should just pay back the grant.

She, Mintz and Hurliman were all worried about the possibility of the statue being damaged in a move.

Susan Clinard, the New Haven artist who sculpted Latimer, in an interview last month said transporting the statue will not be easy.

“The base is one ton and the sculpture itself is probably only about 350 pounds,” Clinard said. “But it’s drilled and anchored in with these pins. It has to be done professionally or it can crack the granite base. . Statues aren’t really supposed to be moved once in.”

“We’re taking a risk here,” Hurliman said. “For what?”


Information from: Connecticut Post, https://www.connpost.com

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