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Gov. Pete Wilson statue gone from San Diego’s downtown after advocates call for removal

A statue of former California Gov. Peter Wilson.
Latino and LGBTQ community leaders have demanded the removal of the statue of former San Diego Mayor Peter Wilson in downtown San Diego.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The statue of former Gov. Pete Wilson near Horton Plaza Park in downtown has been removed.

The 13-year-old statue, which had been at Broadway Circle, was removed by Horton Walk, the nonprofit that owns the statue. Steve Williams, its president, wrote in an email Thursday that no decision has been made about whether the statue will be returned.

“All property … whether statues or real property … must be protected,” he wrote. “With this in mind, we have decided to secure and protect the statue in a place of safe keeping.”

Recently, local racial justice and gay rights groups have called for the statue’s removal, saying Wilson “used his influence and power to demonize and dehumanize” Latino and gay communities for political gain. On Monday, some representatives of Latino and gay rights groups held a news conference in front of the life-size bronze sculpture, saying Wilson supported laws and policies that hurt immigrants and LGBTQ community members.

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Enrique Morones, who founded Gente Unida, spearheaded the removal effort. He said Thursday he is glad the statue was taken down because it was not something the community wanted in the first place.

“There was so much community support,” Morones said about his efforts to remove the statue.

“No one has unified the Latino community more than Pete Wilson,” Morones said in an email. “His racist support of Proposition 187 back in 1994 unified Latino community and supporters of human rights, AGAINST him.”

Wilson could not be reached immediately for comment. Sean Walsh, Wilson’s law partner and former chief of staff, said the statue was a nice recognition of the governor’s 50 years of public service to San Diegans, Californians and the country.

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“It’s regrettable that intimidation tactics similar to those used in Seattle, Portland, Oakland and other cities across the country are causing individuals and businesses to protect themselves,” he said. “Our country, our society cannot be ruled by the threat of intimidation and violence.”

The property where the statue was is owned and maintained by a private company; the city was not involved in removing the statue, a city spokesman said.

“The mayor was disappointed to hear of the removal of the Pete Wilson statue and believes it should still be there today,” city spokesman Gustavo Portela said.

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

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In 2017, a plaque honoring Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was quietly removed from Horton Plaza Park. The plaque, which was inlaid into the floor of the pavilion, was once a part of a larger totem to Davis but was reduced in size and stature after the downtown park was redeveloped in 2016.

Former Mayor Pete Wilson stands by his bronze statue.
Former Mayor Pete Wilson stands by his bronze statue in downtown San Diego.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda)

Wilson was mayor of San Diego from 1971 to 1983. He represented California in the U.S. Senate from 1983 to 1991 and served as governor from 1991 to 1999.

Walsh has said Wilson had a strong track record on racial issues and issues affecting the gay community, including helping pass 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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Voters in 1994 approved Proposition 187, which required deportation for any person in the U.S. illegally, but it was later ruled unconstitutional.

There is another downtown statue, outside the Sofia Hotel on Broadway, that many believe depicts Wilson. The statue is of a man standing next to the hotel’s entrance with his legs crossed, reading a magazine.

A person who identified herself as the hotel’s manager said that statue is not of Wilson, but she declined to answer additional questions.

Lopez-Villafaña writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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