Dispassionate conversation about Frank Rizzo is impossible. Anything positive said about him is denounced as “racist” by those who either weren’t alive when he was in power (black activist Asa Khalif) or didn’t live here when he was alive (City Council crank Helen Gym).
Their knowledge of Rizzo is secondhand, coming mostly from liberal talking drums and those who despised him. Like the writer who described the Rizzo statue outside the Municipal Services Building as giving a fascist salute, as if that were remotely possible. Rizzo is actually waving.
The same writer connected the famous Rizzo-in-tuxedo-with-nightstick photo with the infamous stripping of Black Panthers on a North Philly sidewalk. The tuxedo photo was shot by the late Daily News photographer Elwood P. Smith. The Black Panthers photo was shot by the late Daily News photographer Sam Psoras, who told me Rizzo was not present at the stripping and was disturbed that so many people thought he was.
It hardly matters. The people who knew Rizzo are dying off, replaced by know-it-all progressives who find offense — and racism — in almost everything.
Unlike most of his detractors, I knew Rizzo. I liked his bigger-than-life persona, even while being uncomfortable with some of what he said and did. He was a quote machine and hardly ever used the phrase “off the record.”
Let’s say Rizzo was a racist because he used the N-word and because of some scattered actions. With racism, the accusation is enough, no proof required.
Many hated Rizzo because he was law and order in a city that wanted law and order. Rizzo joked that his policing philosophy was spacco il capo, Italian for “break their heads.” That was then. Now, we are about to elect a criminal defense lawyer as D.A. Yes, the city has changed.
What his detractors don’t say about horrible, racist Rizzo is that as mayor he entrusted his life to his two African American security men, Tony Fulwood and Jimmy Turner. He had black supporters, especially among antidrug and antigang activists, such as Novella Williams. These things get overlooked because of his actual problems with segments of the black community, often because of members of his police force.
As a cop, Rizzo raided gay clubs because he — and most Philadelphians then — didn’t understand gays. In 1975, Mayor Frank Rizzo pushed for legislation to protect gays, Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal reminds me.
Today, we rightfully celebrate diversity and firsts for minorities.
Rizzo was the first Italian American mayor of a city brimming with Italians, and he did it on the strength of his personality. He was elected mayor twice, and was in public service almost 40 years. When the critics say his legacy is only brutality and racism, they ignore projects he pushed: the Center City commuter tunnel, the Gallery, the Mummers Museum, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
If the forces of nouveau reality are so determined to sweep our civic house clean of anyone with a bad reputation, let’s start with the statue on top of City Hall, the well-known royal appendage and patriarch William Penn. I mean, who elected him? That statue has got to come down.
The Ben Franklin Bridge and Parkway? The man who narcissistically named a stove after himself was a slaveholder. The final nail in his coffin? He was a toxic male womanizer. Outta here.
While we’re at it, let’s rename Washington Avenue and tear down that statue in front of the Art Museum. George Washington was a slaveholder. Bye-bye, George.
Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Station need new names. Tom was not only a slaveholder but carried on a sexual relationship with one of his slaves. That’s worse than pay inequity.
FDR Park, named for a president who jailed Japanese Americans? That cannot stand.
Speaking of parks, the statue of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Kelly Drive and Fountain Green Drive in Fairmount Park honors an anti-Semite who later became president. During the Civil War, his infamous General Order No. 11 ordered the expulsion of all Jews from his military district, portions of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Tear that sucker down.
See, everything in American history is ugly and shameful when you make the mistake of judging historical characters by today’s morals rather than by their own.
So, Social Justice Warriors, go ahead and tear down the Rizzo statue. Just understand, it won’t stop there.