For more than a century, a 7-foot-tall statue of Thomas Jefferson — Founding Father, third president, author of the Declaration of Independence — has presided over New York City’s center of political power as leaders made decisions that affected millions of people.

Now, some of those leaders are banishing him. On Monday, members of the city’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove the 1833 statue from council chambers in City Hall by the end of the year. The push to get rid of a statue honoring one of the most venerated figures in American history gained traction last year with the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the nationwide racial reckoning that followed.

The fate of the statue — a replica of the bronze sculpture created by Pierre-Jean David D’Angers that stands in the U.S. Capitol — is uncertain. Under the original proposal, the commission was to give it to the New-York Historical Society on a long-term loan. A crate had even been ordered for conveying the statue to its new home. But the commission ultimately reversed course after some raised concerns about transferring a piece of public art to a private space where people would have to pay to see it. The statue has been in the council chambers since 1915.

The surprise delay upset some Black and Latino representatives on the 51-member New York City Council, and they accused commissioners of voting to “prolong the indignity” inflicted by the statue’s prominent placement.

Jefferson is celebrated as one of the most important people in the creation of the United States. He helped unite 13 colonies into a single rebellion against the British Empire by, in part, writing the Declaration of Independence. He then led the young nation as its third president.

But that rosy picture has been complicated in recent years as people have brought other parts of Jefferson’s life to the fore. He was an enslaver his entire adult life, owning more than 600 people, including 130 when he died. He raped one of those enslaved people, Sally Hemings, his late wife’s half sister, with whom he fathered six children. Jefferson started the sexual relationship with Hemings while she was in her teens and he was in his 40s. And he wrote that Whites were inherently superior to Blacks.

“He … compared the very idea of freeing enslaved people from captivity to abandoning children,” council member Adrienne Adams said.

Ahead of the Public Design Commission’s meeting, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he understood how Jefferson’s past “profoundly bothers people and why they find it’s something that can’t be ignored.”

For Charles Barron, Monday’s vote was decades in the making. The New York state assembly member first demanded the statue’s removal in 2001 when he was on the city council. During Monday’s commission meeting, he called Jefferson “a slaveholding pedophile who should not be honored with a statue.”

Barron’s wife, Inez, who serves on city council, told commissioners via Zoom that an enslaver such as Jefferson acted like a “pimp” so he could expand his plantation and increase his profits.

“We are not being revisionist. We are not waging a war on history,” she said. “We are saying that we want to make sure that the total story is told, that there are no half-truths and that we are not perpetuating lies.”

The vote to remove the Jefferson statue comes as communities across the country are reevaluating the historical figures they honor in public places. Because of his preeminence, Jefferson has largely been spared, even as statues honoring figures such as former Confederate leaders have been taken down from their pedestals. Most notable among them, an enormous statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee that towered over Monument Avenue in the Virginia capital of Richmond for generations was removed last month.

But sites honoring Jefferson have not escaped scrutiny entirely. In September 2020, a committee reporting to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser called to “remove, relocate or contextualize” the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. The city doesn’t have the authority to make such decisions about federal property, and Bowser’s administration ultimately removed the recommendations from a report.

That said, the debate in D.C. led historians — including a Jefferson expert — to say that teaching people the full story of American forebears is appropriate.

“Contextualizing these monuments makes perfect sense,” historian and Jefferson biographer Annette Gordon-Reed told The Washington Post at the time. “Removal, particularly of the Washington [Monument] and Jefferson Memorials, does not make sense, given the formative role they both played in the founding of the United States.”

Jefferson was “at the very center of the American Revolution and the early Republic,” Gordon-Reed added. The Declaration of Independence “has inspired people all over the world. We’re not giving that up. There’s plenty of room, in both places, to talk about all aspects of their lives. That would be a healthy and good thing. Americans should be reminded of the reality of our origins — the good and the bad.”

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson spearheaded the most recent effort to get rid of the Jefferson statue. In the summer of 2020, Johnson wrote to de Blasio, telling the mayor that he and other city council members — including the co-chairs of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus — found it’s presence in the council chambers “inappropriate.”

“There are disturbing images of divisiveness and racism in our City that need to be revisited immediately,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “That starts with City Hall.”