Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Rizzo era is over, or is it?

The Rizzo era is over, or is it?

The Rizzo name has hovered over Philadelphia's civic life for more than a half-century, ever since the day that (probably untrue) legend has it that Joe DiMaggio handed a cigarette to up-and-coming cop Frank Rizzo and hit a home run to win Game 2 of the 1950 World Series at Shibe Park. Four years after the nightstick-in-a-cumberbund ex-mayor died trying to win his old job back in 1991, his mild-mannered son also named Frank Rizzo was elected to City Council as a Republican, keeping the Rizzo name and legacy before the people of Philadelphia. What's more, a genration of tough-talking Rizzo acolytes remained in city politics -- none more Rizzo-esque and emblematiic of brass-knuckle 1970s rowhouse politics than seeming-city-commissioner-for-life Marge Tartaglione.

Tonight, in something of a shock, both Rizzo and Tartaglione are headed for defeat in their party primaries, something that would have once been unthinkable. It's tempting to look back on the racial divisiveness and brutality of the senior Rizzo years in the 1960s and '70s and make a blanket statement about a new era of brotherly love in Philadelphia. But the truth is, Rizzo and Tartaglione both lost not because their politics feel out of favor but because of old-fashioned greed; both chose to take part in the city's mad dash-for-retirement-cash known as DROP, and voters hammered them for it. But much of the racial, class and political mistrust that dominated the city in the 1970s still hangs on even as Rizzo junior and Tartaglione leave office -- it lingers on the streets and in the angry voices you here in talk radio or in the online comments of this website. The end of the Rizzo era? Not yet, and not any time soon.

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Will Bunch
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