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Rizzo statue to go, Kenney administration says

Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Friday, November 3, 2017, 12:11 PM

The statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building will be relocated, according to the office of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

After months of protests and public arguments, Mayor Kenney’s administration on Friday announced that it would move the bronze statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo that has stood outside the Municipal Services Building for nearly two decades.

The Trump Rat, by John Post Lee waves back to the Frank Rizzo sculpture on Rizzo's birthday Monday, October 23, 2017.
The Trump Rat, owned by New York art gallery owner John Post Lee, waves back to the Frank Rizzo sculpture on Rizzo's birthday Monday, October 23, 2017 in front of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia.
About 50 protesters against police brutality took to the streets of Center City Philadelphia on October 21, 2017. The protest ended in front of the controversial statue of former police commissioner and Mayor Frank Rizzo.
About 50 protesters against police brutality took to the streets of Philadelphia to protest. The march started outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center ending at the controversial Frank Rizzo statue, Saturday October 21, 2017.
The statue of Frank Rizzo with Philadelphia police security detail on Wednesday Agust 23, 2017. The statue was vandalized.
The statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo.
The statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall.
Pedestrians walk by the Frank Rizzo statue at the Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall. The statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo stands in front of the Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall.
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.
Demonstrators at the Frank Rizzo statue during Philly We Rise march and rally in Phila., Pa. on Feb 4, 2017.
The Frank Rizzo statue at Thomas Paine Plaza was defaced late Thursday, August 17, 2017.
Frank Rizzo Jr. in front of the Municipal Services Building one of the proposed sites for his fathers statue. Photograph taken on August 9, 1994.
Occupy Philadelphia, put signs on the statue of Frank Rizzo and held a vigil for Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenage shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012, after a jury returned a not-guilty verdict for Zimmerman.
Viewed from City Hall's third floor, the Zenos Frudakis statue of Frank Rizzo merges with one of the Your Move pieces by Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis and Roger White in front of the Municipal Services Building.
Helping make sure everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, members of the MacSwiney Irish Association of Jenkintown attach an Irish flag to the hand of statue of Mayor Frank Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building, March 2012.
Zenos Fredakis who is doing Rizzo Statue at his studio in Glenside, PA.; Zenos Fredakis is working on life-sise bust (C) of Rizzo which is used as reference for actual size statue (L) at his studio.
A young Frank Rizzo Jr. with a clay model of his fathers statue outside the Municipal Services Building on May 7, 1997.
Frank Rizzo Jr. and artist Zenos Frudakis (right) with clay model of Frank Rizzo Sr. outside the Municipal Services Building on May 7, 1997.
Mark Lyon of Laran Bronze Foundry in Chester, PA cleans the Frank Rizzo statue outside the Municipal Services Building on Tuesday, October 26, 2004. Lyon is using a propane torch and hot wax to clean and lay a protective coating on the surface of the statue.
Statue of Frank Rizzo shares the plaza with banner for Salvador Dali exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Photo Gallery: Controversial Frank Rizzo statue will be removed from MSB

In a brief statement, Michael DiBerardinis, city managing director, didn’t say where or when the statue would be relocated, but cast the emotionally and politically freighted decision as part of a planned remake of the surrounding Thomas Paine Plaza.

It was an anticlimactic moment considering the passions the Rizzo statue aroused during a summer of protests, forcing sometimes uncomfortable questions about which leaders of the past should be honored and which should not. Statues of heroes of the Confederacy were removed in city after city.

To his Philadelphia detractors, Rizzo oppressed black citizens as police commissioner in the 1960s and was elected mayor in the 1970s in part by appealing to the racial fears of white Philadelphians. To those who admired him, the activists demanding the statue’s removal were maligning a good man who protected all people from crime.

“This decision comes at a time when we have begun the preliminary stages of planning to re-envision Paine Plaza as a new type of inviting and engaging public space,” DiBerardinis’ statement said. Similar efforts have been completed at Dilworth Park, on City Hall’s western apron, and are underway at JFK Plaza — LOVE Park — just to the northwest.

Frank Rizzo Jr., a former City Council member, complained Friday that Kenney and his administration did not tell him or his 101-year-old mother of the decision before announcing it. Rizzo, who is chairman of a nonprofit that raises money for cleaning and maintenance of the statue, said they both learned the news from reporters.

Rizzo also suggested that the tone of the announcement makes clear the outcome of the process, even though the City Charter requires approval from the city’s Art Commission for any change to the statue.

“People who support the monument probably won’t even waste their time going [to an expected Art Commission hearing] based on the stacked deck,” Rizzo said. “This is not a very professional process.”

Ajeenah Amir, a spokeswoman for Kenney, blamed the failure to inform Rizzo on an “internal miscommunication.”

Asked if he planned to resist the statue being moved, Rizzo brought up the 2019 election, when Kenney will seek a second term.

“I’ve been around politics all my life,” Rizzo said. “I don’t think there’s a reason to raise an objection, other than [to note] the supporters of Frank Rizzo remember this on Election Day.”

Once news of the city’s decision circulated, some reacted with intense emotion. The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, an activist pastor in Philadelphia, compared the bronze Rizzo to a Confederate flag.

“This statue is a representation to black people of terror,” he said.

The 2,000-pound, 10-foot-tall statue of Rizzo, who rose through the Police Department and served as mayor from 1972 to 1980, was erected on Jan. 1, 1999. Rizzo, who changed from Democrat to Republican, was campaigning to return as mayor when he died in 1991. The sculptor said he believes the statue it shouldn’t be moved.

City Councilwoman Helen Gym sparked a conversation about the statue with a tweet in August, calling for its removal after white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., over the planned removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

All around the country, we're fighting to remove the monuments to slavery & racism. Philly, we have work to do. Take the Rizzo statue down.

Gym praised Friday’s announcement, saying Rizzo “tells us a lot about who Philadelphia was, and now our public spaces tell a different story about who we aspire to be and what our future holds for us.”

“Relocating the statue is not and has never been about erasing history,” she said in a statement. “It’s about acknowledging how complex and complicated our history is, and being thoughtful and deliberate about what images we uphold in our public spaces.”

DiBerardinis said the responses to a city website seeking advice on the statue helped officials find potential new sites. He said the next step will be feasibility studies for those locations, followed by a proposal submitted to the Art Commission, which will take at least six months.

Amir refused to identify the locations. “We’re exploring multiple options for a new site,” she said in an email, “though we would certainly engage with the surrounding community before deciding to locate the statue there.”

The City Charter gives the Art Commission the final say.

The nine-member commission, according to the charter, must include a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a landscape architect, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, an experienced business executive, and two faculty or governing board members from schools of art or architecture.

Chairman Alan Greenberger, a professor at Drexel University who served as a deputy mayor during Michael A. Nutter’s two terms, said Friday the commission will hold at least one public hearing on that proposal and possibly more, depending on how many people hope to testify. He also emphasized that Friday’s announcement was just the beginning of the process.

“They haven’t really declared a result in a formal sense,” Greenberger said. “They’ve declared an intention to make a proposal.”

Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.

A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler.

Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER

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