Another man is dipping his toe into the pool of potential candidates in the 2015 mayor’s race, and it’s a familiar name -- former City Councilman Frank Rizzo, son of the late, legendary cop-turned-politician who served as Philadelphia mayor from 1972 through 1979.
“I’m going to explore that possibility and maybe get myself involved in that next mayoral primary, as a Democrat,” Rizzo said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I have spoken to some people about it and I was received very well.”
Rizzo, who turned 70 in early March, was a Republican Council member from 1996 through 2011, winning one of the two Council-at-large seats reserved for non-Democrats. (That’s not how it reads in the City Charter, but that’s how it’s worked since Democrats took control of the city in the 1950s.)
Rizzo lost his Council seat in the 2011 primary, after friction with the GOP machinery and criticism over his participation in the city’s early retirement program, known as DROP. Afterward, his Republican relations became more strained -- the result, he says, of refusing to back Councilman Brian O’Neill’s bid for some partisan redistricting changes – and Rizzo was dumped from his largely-ceremonial post as Council’s minority whip.
“I was a very moderate Republican, not always in lockstep with the party or doing the things they wanted me to do,” Rizzo said. He’s now registered as an independent, but plans to switch soon to the Democratic party – the way he registered originally, when his father was moving up the ranks in the Philadelphia Police Department.
“I was a good son, a Democrat when my dad was a Democrat, and I switched parties when my dad switched,” Rizzo said. “I supported my dad because in politics, every vote counts…You don’t necessary think Republican or Democratic when you’re elected, you just do what’s best for the public.”
Rizzo remembered two specific accomplishments from his years in Council – convincing the State Police to provide 50 state troopers to patrol the Interstate highways in Philadelphia, and initiating the creation of a cell-phone lot near the Philadelphia airport, where people could wait for arriving flights without parking on the shoulders of I-95.
Rizzo said his father, who died in 1991 while running as the Republican candidate for mayor, had never encouraged him to get involved in politics. “While my dad was alive, there was only one Rizzo,” he said. “He probably would have frowned on it, he didn’t want his son to be subject to all he’d experienced. My mother, who’s now 97, said pretty much the same thing, ‘I wish you wouldn’t, but if you want to do it, you’ve always been good at helping people.’ That was all I needed. “
He said Mayor Michael Nutter “has done a great job, in my opinion, after getting the city’s financial situation back in line.” Rizzo said it was too early to judge the city’s new property tax assessments, since the rates haven’t yet been set by Council, and he was neutral on the stalled contract talks between the city and municipal unions . “The municipal workers need contracts,” he said. “I would think the unions have to realize that you gotta pay for all this stuff and unfortunately, all the money isn’t there.”
Rizzo will not be the only political son retracing his father’s footsteps. Councilman Bill Green, whose father succeeded Mayor Rizzo, has all but declared his intention to run in 2015, and Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., whose father succeeded Green, has been mentioned as a possible contender.