Of Rendell, Rizzo, and all this to-do over statues

The statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo stands in the Thomas Paine Plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall. There is now a movement to have the statue removed to a different location.

After chatting last week with Ed Rendell about Frank Rizzo’s statue, I was reminded how easily/quickly explosive events ignite chain reactions.

I thought of the arc of such reactions, where they lead, what they mean, and whether they have value.

Let’s review.

At the core of Charlottesville’s explosive event was a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and a white nationalists’ torch-lit protest over plans to take it down.

Then came violence and death and an aftermath questioning a president’s leadership and widening a nation’s divide — as if it wasn’t wide enough.

The statue in question was in place since 1924. But then we know Charlottesville wasn’t about a statue.

There followed calls (in some cases, action) to move or dismantle other statues, especially Confederate-related. Then talk of taking down the Washington Monument. Now a to-do over Christopher Columbus in New York, and Rizzo in Philadelphia.

For our purposes, let’s stay local.

No matter your views regarding Rizzo, statues or political correctness, this will be a national story that drags on and, likely, won’t be pretty.

We’re talking a contemporary figure in a major Northern media market. And doing anything to or with the Bambino in bronze is a dicey proposition.

Rizzo was beloved and besmirched, remembered in a mix of images often breaking along racial lines, therefore tricky for many pols.

Mayor Kenney cleverly kicked the issue to the city Art Commission, a group of political appointees no doubt delighted to have this hot potato tossed in its collective lap.

Meanwhile, the mayor is soliciting “ideas for Rizzo statue’s future” (wouldn’t you love to read some of those?), talking about hearings in October, and maybe, or maybe not, making a proposal to the commission.

Unsolicited proposals I got from callers/readers include moving Rizzo to Marconi Plaza in South Philly (Columbus is already there) or putting statues of every mayor in a circle around City Hall. (Fun, but expensive; Kenney is the 99th mayor.)

So, what happens?

If there are hearings or further action, count on costs related to security or moving a one-ton sculpture, plus time and energy spent on the effort and likely litigation.

Frank Rizzo Jr., a former member of City Council, wants Papa’s statue to stay put — and says he’s speaking to lawyers.

The Lee statue, by the way, has been subject to public debate at least since 2012. Charlottesville City Council voted in February to remove it. That brought a lawsuit. The statue, for now, still stands.

This gets me to Rendell.

As mayor, Ed raised private funds for Rizzo’s statue and supported putting it outside the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall, where it’s been since Jan. 1, 1999. Rendell now believes that was a mistake and suggests the statue be moved to another location.

But Rendell also says forget about statues, that taking a statue down doesn’t “help the life of a single Philadelphian.” He says if people want to do something, they should go to Harrisburg and protest for a stronger state hate-crimes law.

He’s right.

There are, in Philly and Pennsylvania, issues impacting the present and future. If addressed with the level of intensity evident in attention to the likeness of a long-gone former mayor, they might have a shot at being shaped, for the better, by the democratic process.

Taxes, spending, legal protections, and equal rights for all citizens are matters of lasting import. Too often, policies directly affecting peoples’ lives — in education, pay equity, political reforms, health care and more — are made (or ignored) without enough public input. The result can cause individual and societal harm.

Whereas, one caller said at the end of a voice message, “Statues don’t hurt anyone.”