Statue of Gov. Pete Wilson returns to downtown San Diego
A bronze statue of former Gov. Pete Wilson was returned to its former spot in downtown San Diego nearly two months after its owners removed it because of pushback from local advocates.
Racial justice and gay rights groups called for the statue’s removal in mid-October, saying Wilson used his influence to “demonize and dehumanize” Latino and gay communities.
The 13-year-old statue was removed from an area near Horton Plaza Park on Oct. 15 by the nonprofit Horton Walk, which owns the statue. Stephen B. Williams, president of Horton Walk, said at the time that the statue was removed in response to concerns for its safety.
On Wednesday, Williams declined to answer questions about the statue’s return. Instead, he issued a written statement that said the statue was returned Nov. 30.
“The statue of Pete Wilson is a symbol of all that is great about San Diego and its unlimited future,” Williams said in the statement.
Williams praised Wilson’s efforts as mayor to revitalize and attract investors to downtown San Diego.
The statement did not say if the nonprofit still has safety concerns.
California confronts its racist, colonial past as statues fall, mascots are renamed and a town debates changing its name that honors a Confederate general.
Calls to remove the statue came amid nationwide demands for the eradication of statues and symbols of Confederate generals and those who owned enslaved people.
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 part of a larger tribute to Davis, but was reduced in size and stature after the downtown park was redeveloped in 2016.
Enrique Morones, founder of Gente Unida, spearheaded the Wilson statue removal effort. He said on Wednesday that he strongly encourages the owners of the statue to remove it again.
“Hate is not welcome here,” Morones said in an email.
Advocates point to Wilson’s support of Proposition 187, which sought to limit illegal immigration by cutting off state services such as healthcare and public education to immigrants who were in California illegally. The proposition was approved by voters in 1994, but a federal judge later ruled it unconstitutional.
Wilson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Sean Walsh, Wilson’s former chief of staff and now law partner, told the Union-Tribune in October that the statue was a nice recognition of the governor’s years of public service. He said Wilson had a strong track record that included boosting healthcare for children, shrinking class sizes in public schools and increasing funding for low-income areas.
“In many respects, the city of San Diego is the envy of the nation and is a global destination due in large part to the tireless work on its behalf by Pete Wilson,” Walsh said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s fitting and right that Pete Wilson is recognized for his accomplishments with a public display that recognizes these facts.”
Wilson served as mayor of San Diego from 1971 to 1983. He represented California in the U.S. Senate for eight years and was California’s governor from 1991 to 1999.
There is another downtown statue, outside the Sofia Hotel on Broadway, that many believe depicts Wilson. The statue is of a man reading a magazine while standing next to the hotel’s entrance.
Lopez-Villafaña writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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