Can 2,000 pounds of bronze, standing 10 feet tall, serve as both a mirror and a window for how Philadelphians see themselves and their history?
The answer is yes. And that’s the only thing clear about the controversy surrounding the statue of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo, which has stood across the street from City Hall for nearly 19 years.
You can see for yourself in the 3,601 responses posted by people after Mayor Kenney’s staff put up a website soliciting suggestions for the future of the statue.
Philadelphians did not disappoint. Their comments are funny, profane, angry, proud, defiant, distressed, thoughtful, and flippant. As you’d expect.
There is so much going on here — collected from Aug. 24 to Sept. 15 — that we made all the responses available and word-searchable in this column on Philly.com.
Editorial decorum prohibits me from citing here the most colorful comment. But look for the phrase struck by lightning. You’ll see what I mean.
There are 373 comments that use the word racist in very different ways.
Here’s one: “Frank Rizzo was a racist bigot whose greatest accomplishment was to set back race relations in our city.”
Here’s another: “He was not a racist, he was a fair man. If you did something wrong, you paid for it.”
Opinions also diverged on crime and Rizzo, who rose to power through the Philadelphia Police Department.
On one side: “Frank Rizzo was up against the wall of violent crime in the city. And he did what he needed to do.”
On the other: “His overblown fears of crime kept folks away in droves during the less than successful bicentennial celebration.”
There were political threats: “Just because some people want it torn down the city will do it. They have no backbone. I will remember who to vote for when it comes election time.”
And there was poetry: “Locate it in the Schuylkill River, wherein the ebb and flow of the tide will hide and reveal the statue as it rises and falls, representing the ongoing struggle of oppression rearing its head.”
That was one of a dozen suggestions to dump the statue in the Schuylkill or the Delaware.
One hundred and twenty-five posters called for the bronze Bambino to be melted down and recast into all sorts of shapes that probably would have appalled Rizzo.
One fan posted — identically, eight times — a suggestion, using a favorite insult Rizzo used to toss around — “Keep it right where it is you crumb bums!!!!!”
Some of the vitriol was aimed at Kenney. And some targeted City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who kicked off the controversy by calling for the removal of the statue in mid-August.
While Gym took a position, Kenney has tap-danced through this political minefield, cheering the conversation, not the outcome.
Thus, the website, deliberately designed to avoid easily quantifiable answers to preset questions. There was no “yes or no” box to check here. Just a lot of words.
It was an exercise in venting, not metrics.
Kenney, on Aug. 22, two days before the website started, dismissed the idea of polling.
“If you poll it on the internet it’s easy to stuff that ballot box,” he said.
The City Charter gives the Art Commission the final say on the matter, if Kenney’s administration presents a proposal. Kenney’s staff is still describing a proposal as a potential event, even though he said definitively on Aug. 22 that it will happen.
Here’s another thing he said that day: “Not everybody will be happy, but everybody will be heard.”
And so they were.