Lisbon nixes statue after all

LISBON – Clement Vallandigham was shot down again, but this time it was not by his own hand.

Bowing to public opposition, Village Council rescinded its previous decision to allow a proposed statue of the controversial Lisbon native and Civil War-era figure to be placed in the town square.

The vote at Tuesday’s meeting was 4-1, with council members Roger Gallo, Jeff Snyder, Steve Defilippo and Mary Ann Gray in favor, and Joe Morenz casting the lone dissenting vote.

The newest councilman, Tom Darcy, who was sworn in prior to the meeting, abstained from the vote since he was not involved in the original decision granting the Lisbon Landmark Foundation permission to place the bronze statue in the town square near the Civil War cannon.

It was not long before the decision began generating opposition from people upset with Vallandigham’s contribution to history. An outspoken critic of President Lincoln and his conduct of the war, Vallandigham was arrested and imprisoned in 1863 for publicly making derogatory comments about Lincoln and his war policies. He favored peace with Confederacy, even if it meant preserving slavery. Lincoln later commuted Vallandigham’s sentence and instead banished him to the Confederacy.

Vallandigham’s death came in 1871 after he accidentally shot himself while handling a pistol he believed to be unloaded during a trial in which he was serving as defense attorney.

Council decided to hold a public hearing on the statue after receiving a letter of concern about their decision from an aide to state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who said their office had received calls complaining about the decision. The hearing was held last week and drew a crowd of 27, at least two-thirds of whom appeared to be opposed to placing the statue in the town square.

There was little discussion Tuesday night, with Snyder noting how much controversy the statue idea has generated. Gallo said the majority of people at the hearing and others he has spoken to since were opposed to the statue, and Defilippo, who agreed, then made the motion to rescind their permission for the time being.

After the meeting, Morenz defended his vote, saying, “I’m not happy with first saying yes and then saying no.”

Morenz said he also supported the statue as a way to recognize Vallandigham’s place in Civil War history, which is indisputable, regardless of the politics involved. “This guy was a big part of history,” he said.

Morenz then quoted from foundation member Susan Mowery, who had said last week the statue is art and art is supposed to be thought-provoking. “And that certainly would have done that,” he said.

The Landmark Foundation is a committee of the Lisbon Area Chamber of Commerce devoted to preserving local history and historical structures. Foundation member Ryan Hillman said after the meeting they intend to continue raising private funds for the statue and the only change is it will be placed on private property in the village instead of public property.

“Obviously, it’s a disappointment that council chose to change its mind … but we’ll continue with the project, although it will clearly have to be on private property,” Hillman said.

After the vote, Mayor Dan Bing recommended they follow through with one suggestion that a series of plaques of Lisbon’s historical figures be erected around town, including one to Vallandigham.

Prior to the vote Gallo gave a shout-out to Sen. Schiavoni, who he said called him prior to Tuesday’s meeting to ask if there was anything he could do. “I just wanted to thank him for calling,” he said.