SALEM — Lincoln Plaza Committee members answered further questions and argued passionately in favor of a proposed statue of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.
“Given the number of calls from concerned citizens I felt it was necessary to have this discussion about phase two before accepting the funds,” Councilman Steve Faber said .
Faber began the meeting by reminding all in attendance that his concerns were founded on the matter that council had not had a formal discussion on phase two of the Lincoln Plaza project. He said he is not opposed to the idea of a Lincoln statue.
“I believe we have a process for a reason and that process is for us to discuss this, and had we accepted the funds in December we would have been giving our approval for phase two which we had not discussed, and had not had a chance to discuss,” Faber said.
Faber also noted that while he was appreciative of the Columbiana County Commissioners’ offer of $125,000 in American Rescue Plan funds for the construction of the statue, he was unsure of how they had even been made aware of the project and became involved.
Mayor Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey explained that she became aware of funds being available through the county for a similar purpose and wrote a letter to the commissioners requesting funding for the project, which the commissioners approved. Dickey further addressed Faber’s previously stated concerns over whether there may have been a more suitable subject for a statue, noting that a statue of Lincoln had been chosen, like the name Lincoln Plaza, due to the property’s location on Lincoln Avenue. Lincoln was additionally chosen due to Salem’s history as an abolitionist territory, with Lincoln as being an easily recognizable symbol of that movement.
Dickey further noted it would be appropriate as one of the city’s early industrial leaders the W.H. Mullins company had produced an entire series of statues in the likeness of Abraham Lincoln, many of which have become public landmarks across the nation. Dickey also said it is possible to obtain a copyright permission for an exact replica of one of these Mullins Statues to be made through the use of 3-D scanning and imaging technology.
Councilman Evan Newman argued that there had been opportunities to discuss the project, and the statue, when the Green Space Committee made its original presentation, which always included the statue, and at the Nov. 29 committee of the whole meeting for discussion of the project.
Faber countered that discussion of the project at the November meeting was restricted only to the first phase of the project.
Councilman Andrew Null noted that accepting the funds and having a statue of Lincoln would not preclude the city from the installation of further statues in the future.
“I understand your need for further information, but accepting the funds does not mean we can’t have future expansions in the project,” Null said.
Newman further argued that there had been many possibilities for the property as a whole, and for the subject of a possible statue and the decision to name the plaza after Lincoln. He said the decision to have the statue of Lincoln had been made after careful consideration of a number of factors, including the information presented to council previously and by Dickey that evening.
Newman also said that he had spoken to several area business owners that were excited about the Lincoln Plaza Project, and felt it presented many opportunities for the enjoyment and use of the downtown area. Newman also said business owners had felt ensuring proper lighting, signage and crosswalks were in place so that the plaza could be enjoyed sustainably and safely should be a priority for council.
Green Space Committee Co-Chair David Johnson and Committee Member Jennifer Brown expressed similar sentiments, providing further insights into the Green Space Committee’s process.
Johnson explained that the committee had considered local historical figures Strotter Brown and Zadok Street as previously suggested by Faber as possible candidates for the statue, before deciding on Lincoln, as he is a near universally admired figure and one of the most popular of all American presidents. Johnson also noted it isn’t known what Street looked like for a statue to be sculpted.
Brown said that in the early stages of the project she had not necessarily been in support of a statue of Lincoln herself, but that the committee had considered the issue and the potential options exhaustively, compiling lists of all the possibilities with decision made by repeated, process of elimination votes. Brown also noted that there is space on the other side of the plaza where further statues could be installed, celebrating the city’s local history more directly such as one honoring the quakers.
Councilman Dennis Plegge reiterated his sentiments from the original presentation that the committee’s efforts had been amongst the most impressive he’d ever seen, and still believes so, thanking all involved for their efforts once more.
Faber thanked everyone in attendance for their contributions to the project and for speaking at the meeting to provide council with further information and clarification, reaffirming his intention in requesting the meeting was simply to hold an official discussion on the matter and gain further information before a final vote.
“It was never the intention to stop Lincoln from being the statue. The intention was to gather more information, not to hate on honest Abe,” Faber said.