Updated: Thursday, September 7, 2017, 1:49 PM
Controversy over the fate of the statue honoring the late Mayor Frank L. Rizzo has quieted for the moment.
I’d like to think it’s because everyone’s been busy coming up with novel ideas for replacing or relocating it and submitting them to the city — but that’s wishful thinking.
You’ll recall that the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy has asked city residents to submit suggestions for the statue’s future. But the response so far has been lukewarm. Only about 2,700 people have bothered to fill out the online questionnaire or mail in their ideas.
I really was surprised when I heard that.
Given how polarizing a figure Rizzo still is, the city should have been deluged with responses. Bring up the subject of what to do with the statue in front of the Municipal Services Building and everybody has an opinion.
You’d think that given the current mood in the country, with folks angling to remove statues of Confederate soldiers and other less-than-honorable historical figures, things would be at a fever pitch in Philly. But no, that’s not the case.
Meanwhile, it’s as if some other parts of America have awakened from a long slumber and are taking a fresh look at the sins of people we honor and gone, “Ugh, what were we thinking?” Earlier this week, the National Cathedral in Washington, which has been the site of funerals for numerous U.S. presidents, announced plans to remove stained-glass windows honoring Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) this week cosponsored a bill to have similarly offensive remembrances removed from the Capitol.
In Minneapolis, there’s a grassroots effort to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus and replace it with none other than Prince, the flamboyant entertainer who died of a drug overdose in his hometown back in 2016.
“We, the undersigned, do not believe that Columbus represents the values Minnesotans carry,” a petition on Organizefor.org reads. “Rather than glorify a man who wanted to extinguish black and Native peoples, we should honor members of our community.”
In Portsmouth, Va., there’s talk of replacing a reviled Confederate monument with one of hometown heroine Missy Elliott. “Missy is all of us. Missy is everything the Confederacy was not,” a petition on Change.org reads. So, far it has attracted more than 30,000 supporters.
It’s hard to say if either of these out-of-the-box efforts will gain traction. I bring them up to help get folks thinking. I mean, if Philly wants to honor a favored son, such as, say, actor/entertainer Will Smith, that wouldn’t be out of the question. But first, the ideas have to be presented. People have to participate in the process. So, I ask: What are you waiting for? C’mon, Philly. This is something you’re passionate about. I see it in your Facebook posts. I hear you talking about it on the radio. Now’s your chance to be heard.
The commission will review the Rizzo-related submissions and decide in late September whether to start the formal process to remove or relocate public art. That would be followed by a 30-day notice to the sculptor and a public hearing, possibly in October. If you don’t want to use the internet, mail your ideas to:
Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy
Ideas for Rizzo’s Future
City of Philadelphia
116 City Hall
I know you’re busy. Plus, a lot of you feel talk of moving the statue is misdirected energy.
“There’s more important issues that plague Philadelphia with a black cloud,” Darisha Miller, a public relations guru, wrote me recently. “It’s why I’m strongly opposed to any further discussion of a statue.”
But Thomas Paine Plaza is right across from City Hall. I really don’t think visitors should be greeted by a hulking statue of a politician known for antagonizing African Americans and members of the LGBTQ population, and who once called on voters to “vote white.”
Whatever you think of Rizzo, fill out the form. It doesn’t take much time. Stop procrastinating. You have until next Friday to get it in.