In the wake of the racial tensions and violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August, Philadelphia found itself in the midst of a firestorm over one of the city’s most recognizable monuments.
The Frank Rizzo statue, which stands across from City Hall, has drawn criticism and praise since its installation in 1998, but this summer, Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted her disdain for the statue and suggested it be removed. The tweet ignited a weeks-long public debate about whether the monument should stand. Rizzo, who was mayor and police commissioner of Philadelphia, was known for tough tactics aimed at African Americans and other minority groups. In a poll of more than one thousand Philly.com readers, 35.5 percent voted to demote, recontextualize, or dispose of the statue entirely.
In response to the outcry, the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy issued a request for suggestions for the statue’s future. As of Friday, 2,700 ideas had been submitted. The city will review the suggestions and come up with a proposal on the statue’s fate that it will submit to the Art Commission. You can submit ideas until 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15. Click here to submit an idea.
The Mayor’s Office shared some of the ideas it has received. Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
- Each month, have a designer knit a funny outfit, or dress up the statue in drag. Businesses can advertise on the statue [and] add to the aesthetic. Maybe there’s even a competition for the best Rizzo costume, with a prize.
- I would love to see the statue displayed in a setting — such as the Philly History Museum — that uses the voices of diverse people’s memories and stories from news archives to put the Rizzo statue in context. This could create an understanding among different communities regarding why this man brought out such strong — and different — emotions. It also provides an opportunity to weave in conversations about complex topics like gay rights, immigrants, civil rights, etc. I like how this was done at the Liberty Bell Pavilion when it was renovated, where slave narratives were added to the story of our nation’s founding. Stories that show the complexity of public figures can be uncomfortable, but I believe it is important to showing how people — and cities — can evolve.
- Let’s give this symbol to an interested museum or group that promises to put it in its proper context and not whitewash the pain of this enduring legacy. And let’s put in its place a symbol of our realization that we are all equally valuable and cherished Philadelphians, that we acknowledge we have so often failed to treat each other as such, and that our fates are inexorably linked.
- As a Philadelphia-born-and-raised citizen with a love for the City of Philadelphia, I highly encourage that we preserve the history and monuments that reflect our past as a reminder for us and future generations of how far we have developed in cultural and human relations as a people, city, state, and nation. I would recommend that we leave the Frank Rizzo statue in its original location. We owe respect to our ancestors who have loved and worked for a better Philadelphia.
- I believe we should put up a statue of a prominent Philadelphia Italian American that can make us all proud — such Roy Campanella, Frankie Avalon, or war hero Sgt. William Guarnere — near the old Rizzo space. And given the lack of diversity of our statues in Philadelphia, we should also put up a statue of a prominent African American Philadelphian near the current Rizzo statue space, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe (the godmother of rock-and-roll), Richard Allen (the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who also operated a stop on the Underground Railroad), Raymond Pace Alexander, or Billie Holiday. Perhaps prepare a list of finalists in conjunction with the African American History Museum in Philadelphia and have folks vote on it.
- I’m the president of the Freethought Society and helped my dear friend Mark Stone persuade the City Council to name the municipal building area Thomas Paine Plaza. Our goal was to also eventually have a likeness of Paine at the plaza. I suggest that the Rizzo statue be replaced by a statue of Founding Father Thomas Paine. We at the Freethought Society are prepared to kick off a fund-raising effort for this goal with $10,000. The sculptor who created the Rizzo statue has agreed that creating a Thomas Paine statute would bring him great joy and pride. Paine was one of the first who spoke out against slavery. His antislavery essays empowered others to become abolitionists and to work for social change. A Thomas Paine statue is long overdue, especially at the Thomas Paine Plaza.
- A museum, possibly the Mummers Museum, would be an appropriate place for the statue. If not a museum, then melt it down into trinkets or some other giveaway that could be handed out to those who wanted to keep it. Maybe a commemorative coin or token.
Submit your ideas for the Rizzo statue
All Philadelphians are encouraged to fill out this form.
Deadline: 5 p.m. Sept. 15