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Social justice advocates want statue of Pete Wilson removed from downtown San Diego

Some community advocates want the statue of former Gov. Pete Wilson removed from downtown San Diego.
Advocates for the Latino and LGBTQ communities in San Diego demanded the immediate removal of a statue of former Gov. Pete Wilson, who was also mayor of San Diego, for his support of Proposition 187 in 1994, which sought to cut state services, including healthcare and public education, to those in the country illegally.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Advocates for racial justice and gay rights came together Monday afternoon to demand San Diego officials remove a life-sized bronze sculpture of former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

They said the 13-year-old statue should be removed from Broadway Circle near Horton Plaza Park because Wilson “used his influence and power to demonize and dehumanize” Latino and gay communities for political gain.

Wilson’s former chief of staff said the request to remove the statue is a “partisan political performance” by people more interested in shutting down debate than engaging in policy discussions.

The move comes amid nationwide demands for the removal of statues of Confederate generals and people who owned enslaved people.

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Critics say Wilson, who was also mayor of San Diego, should be judged harshly for his support in 1994 of Proposition 187, which sought to curb illegal immigration by cutting off state services to undocumented people. The voter-approved ballot measure was eventually ruled unconstitutional.

“He is a purveyor of hate,” said Enrique Morones, a Latino rights leader spearheading the statue removal effort. “We won’t stand for this type of racism.”

Morones said Wilson’s endorsement of President Trump’s reelection shows Wilson hasn’t changed his positions.

“His recent unsolicited endorsement of Trump doubles down on the hatred he inspires,” said Morones, criticizing Trump for not condemning white supremacist groups strongly enough. “It is long overdue that the Pete Wilson statue be taken down.”

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Morones placed a red mask on the Wilson statue, signifying Morones’ support for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a longtime local gay rights leader, said Wilson declined to meet with leaders of San Diego’s gay community when he was mayor of the city from 1971 to 1983.

Wilson then represented California in the U.S. Senate from 1983 to 1991 and served as governor from 1991 to 1999.

Pete Wilson stands by his bronze statue in downtown San Diego.
Pete Wilson, former mayor of San Diego and governor of California, stands by a bronze statue in his likeness in downtown San Diego in 2007.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)
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Sean Walsh, Wilson’s law partner and former chief of staff, said demands for removal of the statue are part of a new “cancel culture.”

“People don’t want to discuss or debate the merits of policy issues, they simply want to silence, tear down and cancel people they disagree with,” Walsh said Monday.

The criticisms of Wilson are unwarranted, he added, saying Wilson had a strong track record in his political career on racial issues and issues affecting the gay community.

Walsh said Wilson helped pass strong legislation and policies that boosted healthcare for children, reduced class sizes in public schools and increased funding for low-income areas.

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“His record of accomplishments and public policy successes are second to none in the U.S. today,” Walsh said.

On Proposition 187, Ryan said it’s important to note that the measure didn’t single out Latinos, requiring deportation for any person in the U.S. illegally, regardless of ethnicity or country or origin.

“Proposition 187 had nothing to do with race,” Walsh said.

A plaque accompanying the Wilson statue hails him for helping lead a revival of downtown, making government more efficient and recognizing diversity.

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Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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