A 15-foot “Trump Rat” caricature balloon — with the president’s bouffant head, a red tie, and Confederate flag-style cuff links — was inflated in front of the 10-foot bronze statue of Frank L. Rizzo on Monday, the 97th birthday anniversary of the former Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor, in front of the Municipal Services Building.
The balloon is the brainchild of Philadelphia native John Post Lee, 58, a New York City art gallery owner. “I was appalled by this guy becoming president,” Lee said after inflating the balloon Monday morning on Thomas Paine Plaza. An hour later, he was ordered by police to deflate it and move it to the public sidewalk because he did not have a permit to put it on the plaza.
The rodent image was picked to depict Trump, Lee said, because, “like a rat,” Trump is “untrustworthy, he’s a liar, he’s mean-spirited.”
Lee, who worked up a sketch for the Trump Rat with New York-based artist Jeffrey Beebe, raised $10,000 on Kickstarter to fund the project. He hired an Ohio company, Inflatable Images, to make it.
The Trump Rat debuted near Trump Tower in Manhattan in mid-August, and came to Washington Aug. 29.
Faye Anderson, a Philadelphia activist who is a member of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, was instrumental in bringing the balloon to Philadelphia. She was in New York on Oct. 14, saw the inflatable rodent and met Lee.
“His idea is to use public art as a form of protest,” said Anderson, who added that Lee embraced her idea of bringing the Trump Rat to Philly on Rizzo’s birthday.
Rizzo, born Oct. 23, 1920, served as Philadelphia’s police commissioner from 1967 to 1971 and as mayor from 1972 to 1980. He died of a heart attack at age 70 in July 1991.
Protesters have called for Rizzo’s statue to be removed, saying Rizzo was racist and heavy-handed, especially toward the city’s African American community. Others have petitioned for his statue to remain where it is, saying he represented law and order and promoted African Americans on the police force.
Rizzo’s “legacy is one of police brutality, racism,” Anderson said. “He was Trump before Trump.” Of all the mayors who have led Philadelphia, “why has this one been given a signal honor?” she asked.
On Monday afternoon, the towering Trump Rat caused many passersby to stop, chuckle, and take photos.
“It’s funny. It’s very funny,” said Jamar Holmes, 40, of West Philadelphia, who held daughter Liliana, 2.
“He’s for himself,” Holmes said of the president. “He’s not for the people. He’s not for the country.”
Others thought the caricature was a disgrace. Michael Henkel, 59, of South Philadelphia, said he had voted for Trump, who he said was doing “a tremendous job.”
“It is disgusting. It is embarrassing,” he said, to have something mocking the president placed on a Center City sidewalk.
Shortly after 5 p.m., as he had planned, Lee removed the inflatable Trump balloon. He said he’d like to bring it back to Philadelphia one day.