Philly has other statues to kill

The statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo joins former superstar Kate Smith in ignominy, disappeared by progressives who would whitewash history rather than learn from it. I wrote the following almost three years ago, and present it today, with minor edits to update it.

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).

Bye, bye Frank Rizzo. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

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, slave-owner 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. Now, go after the others — and tear the country apart.

34 thoughts on “Philly has other statues to kill”

  1. I am a fan of Mr. Rizzo. He had a tough job to do but he did it and made no excuses. Mayor Kenny has no back bone.

  2. Once again you hit the ball out of the park. Factual history is something I’ve always been able to put aside in favor of my own point of view. I lived through the Rizzo era. Like everybody else, he was his own combination of intelligence and ignorance with enormous physical and psychological size. He was a man for his time. That time is now recorded in the fiction we agreed to. The powers that be are now in the process of revising the fiction to suit a modern agenda. I believe that all warfare and all politics is based to some degree upon deception. We are faced with several groups of damn liars calling each other damn liars, and they are all correct. Facts are of no particular significance. My vote will be cast based upon my point of view.

  3. My prediction. Italian hating dunce in City Hall changes Columbus Day to indiginous people’s day.

      1. that would be okay in my book…..ONLY because Columbus had nothing to do with Philly….and I will forever call it Delaware Ave…..LOVE your article….at last a person of reason not knee jerk reaction!

  4. lousy policing in protecting a statute came at the cost of widespread looting only several blocks away . Time to stop the focus on statutes and focus instead on people in America’s super-poor and hungriest city .

    1. If the cops were protecting the statue it would not have been vandalized. They were protecting MSB and the statue was outside the police line.

  5. Well this was an act of appeasement and probably just the first of many. We all know how well that’s worked in the past. This is tyranny by mob.

  6. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    No Rizzo fan here, but I don’t hold with sanitizing our history.

    Washington gets a pass as “father of his country.” No one dared to openly oppose Washington, as the country got started. Anything that went wrong we blamed on Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s “Prime Minister.”

    In this way, Jefferson also gets a pass, because he and Madison, too, effectively opposed Hamilton, and in this way founded the party we call the party of Jefferson and Jackson: the Democratic party. Recall those Jefferson-Jackson Day, party fund raisers? (Scandal: Hamilton recently seen making a comeback.)

    Of course, William Penn also gets a pass as the honored founder of Pennsylvania and of his “Quaker City,” and for the “holy experiment” of religious freedom –no state religion in PA! We recall that the Germantown Friends also chastised Penn, very early on, for holding slaves.

    This pass for Billy Penn is only subject to the qualification that Ben Franklin also gets a pass, as re-founder of Pennsylvania who led the revolution that overthrew the PA colonial government (they were happy to continue profitable trading relations with the mother country) and then enlisted French arms and finance to see us through the revolution. Without the French navy at the battle of the Virginia capes and French arms, there would have been no victory at Yorktown.

    Mayor Rizzo gets at least an honorable mention (along with everyone else having Italian relatives from S. Philly). Can anyone get more Philadelphian than that? I tend to think that anyone with an Italian grandmother from S. Philly is going to be pretty uniquely Philadelphian.


    H.G. Callaway

  7. The Pollyanna left in me hopes that those too young or didn’t live here during Rizzo’s time would read your article. I had a similar conversation with a friend who did not live here and had no clue of Rizzo’s popularity among diverse segments of the citizenry.

    Anyone serious in learning (or being reminded) of the era should read Paolantonio’s biography of Rizzo. Historical figures should be studied in the context of their era, to do otherwise is intellectually lazy.

  8. As the line in the popular Simon and Garfunkel song goes:
    “….a man believes what he wants to believe and disregards the rest…..”

  9. Stu, As a longtime reader of your work dating back to the print days, I want to say, since the start of the COVID pandemic, growing into The Great 2020 Quarantine and now onto the social unrest spreading in our big cities, you are truly on an unbelievable run of essays that capture my perspective on life today. You’re able to view these topics with multiple lenses, articulate the layers, and share a rational perspective we almost never hear in the media today.

    It’s great to read someone who’s willing to talk about all sides of an issue, and call them as he sees them. Thanks for your words and keep on writing! Bravo

      1. It seems many want to delete history all the while reminding us every day we are responsible for enslaving their ancestors over 300 years ago. I really enjoy reading your honest and thought provoking writings. God bless you for your honesty and God bless and protect our country.

  10. I am a proud Philadelphian of Italian-American heritage. I have mixed feelings on Rizzo but do not believe removing his statue will help any of this. If it does, I will stand corrected and applaud Kenny. I also did not oppose Kenny’s plan to remove the statue as part of a future renovation project, so the removal is a moot point with me.

    What is indisputable is the fact that Rizzo’s most vocal detractors, were not alive or living elsewhere when he was commissioner and Mayor. Their claims are sanitized and approved trigger words or phrases , they are never backed by an unbiased analysis of factual history. Generally, they are based on single events and not the totality of the individual. Say it enough in today’s world and it becomes a fact.

    If the facts are more than 100 characters long , it must be reduced, take out what you do not like, find the right label to file it under and you are on your way to defining history.

  11. Talk about revisionist history…

    “Let’s say Rizzo was a racist because he used the N-word and because of some scattered actions.” That’s the full extent of you addressing the racist and discriminatory police practices that were directed by Rizzo? Nothing further about the MOVE incident, the “get their black asses” remark about the protesting college teenagers who of all things wanted African American Studies classes offered, or the Pulitzer Prize that your former employer earned based on the reporting of your colleagues about the Police Department’s unconscionable brutality and civil rights offenses. The Police Department killed 97 people in 1974 alone while he was mayor. That’s unheard of.

    Who is the know it all…. the progressives or the guy who literally says “I knew him and I liked him” therefore my opinion of him is more accurate?

    He’s not a racist, he had two black guys that worked for him. He’s not a bigot, he supported one piece of gay legislation while also brutally raiding gay establishments and claiming that he was going to make “Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” These are common responses when faced with clear cut evidence of racism and bigotry. Once upon a time, the person did something not racist or bigoted. The larger picture of his actions tells a much different story than the isolated anecdotes you’d like to focus on. Your argument was flimsy the first time you wrote, and perhaps you should have revised it a bit before spewing the nonsense again.

    And then, the worst… whataboutisms…. What about Billy Penn, what about Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Grant…. from 150 years ago? What about the founding members of the country who actually achieved amazing things and helped to develop the country into what it is…. but who no doubt had flaws as we look back upon them. You believe those are fair comparisons to Rizzo? Rizzo achieved little, and your article doesn’t even highlight any achievements because there really weren’t any. By any objective standard or measure, the city suffered greatly during his terms. He was an abject failure by any measure on the political spectrum. Moreover, Rizzo’s brutal actions resulted in outrage and condemnation from around the country WHILE he was in office. He was judged harshly both then and now.

    So for his statue to sit in the center of the city, as a present day beacon of law and order next to City Hall and the Municipal Building, is offensive, obnoxious, and utterly inconsiderate of citizens of the city that exist now and who need to look at and be reminded of an especially non-flattering time in our city’s history when blacks were considered to be invading the neighborhoods, increasing crime and taking the jobs of whites (all entirely racist beliefs). The only people who look fondly on the memory of Rizzo years long for the days when it was acceptable to openly discuss how the blacks were ruining the neighborhoods. Those were days! Because really, what else is there to celebrate about Rizzo? His big personality, charm, and italian heritage? Write that on his tombstone, don’t put up a memorial at City Hall. He was not a good politician or leader regardless of whether you found him, personally, to be a nice guy.

        1. I admitted the mistake below, Charles. Doesn’t change my point. By all accounts, Rizzo changed following his time as mayor and saw the error of his ways (why can’t we?). Or perhaps he recognized that he needed to change if he had any chance to get elected again. Regardless if he made personal progress and was an overall better man, it does not change his actions as commissioner and mayor. His statue, in the location it was placed, was meant to celebrate his public service to the city, not the person he ultimately became. That’s why it was inappropriate. The only people who actually benefitted from his tenure in office were his friends. That’s not worth celebrating when there’s obviously a large percentage of current city residents, both young and old, who feel that his legacy is one of unabated brutality. There’s a reason that hindsight is 20/20, and it’s because in the moment while something is happening, you lack the ability to fully see and evaluate all circumstances and options present. Now that 50 years have passed, we can evaluate all those circumstances and make the prudent decision not to celebrate a tenure full of mistakes in the most public of ways and in a location where city residents expect much better decisions regarding policing and government.

          1. You should quit while you are behind. You can’t even print accurate statistics.
            You go back and lie about cop killings.

            You didn’t even mention Rizzo dropped a bomb and killed 11 AAs. Including 5 children. I bet you are blaming Rizzo for that.

    Pallie, ya tell it like it is and that aint good enough ! Frank Rizzo was pretty much everything that was said in this blog. A few good honest points were made. If you’re talking history, quote the history as it was, not how it is perceived. ( I think we have this same argument about our Constitution ) At any rate, we could all sit down and go ’round the table telling Frank stories. We would laugh, and no doubt, shed some tears. Not so much because Rizzo was a racist bully ( or not ) but more tears for those times back then, when we were trying to out grow the Uncle Tomisms, the everyday racial and ethnic slurs, being poor and white, being poorer and black. There wasn’t much else to pick on or at. Many of the Puerto Ricans back then, came over from the island, picked crops, then went back home. They were not welcomed, because the poor white Italians were picking crops all day, then they too, went home – Philly. (These young folks never heard that part of history !) and on, and on…………………………..
    “Ya had to be there !” is one of my many say’ns”. We were a young country with growing pains. Today, we are a bit older and still we have growing pains.

  13. “A view from the other side” is posting horse manure. The Philly cops did not kill 97 citizens.

    From the encyclopedia of philadelphia

    In 1974, for example, the peak year under Rizzo, police shot ninety-seven suspects and killed thirty-one.

    With the EMT services today and the modern emergency room services the 31 killings would probably be cut in half today..

    With such a gross error in your shooting statistics I can not believe any of your other liberal progressive talking points about Rizzo.

    1. 100% correct that the statistic I had was 97 shootings and not killings. It was not my intention to misrepresent the statistic, i just wrote quickly and incorrectly. Apologies. 97 shootings is still an extraordinarily high number, and is 5 times the average number of shootings by police per year that have occurred in any of the last 5 years. In fact, there were more killings in 1974 than there were shootings by police in any of the last 5 years. So I think my point remains unaffected by the mistake.

      1. 31 killings in 1974.

        How many of those who died i 1974 would have survived had the city had the EMT skills possessed today and the ER skills possessed today.

        I caught you passing out fake 1974 stats. I don’want to waste more of my time running down more stats you are now posting.

        I know you aren’t interested in how many times cops were shot at in 1974 and how many times cops were shot at in the last 5 years.

        The sad part of this is the PPD had a qualified candidate (Sullivan) to assume the job.But the Italian hating dunce in City Hall went to Portland to hire a very mediocre Police Commissioner.She fit the bill because when this incompetent runs for governor he can brag he hired a double minority for commissioner.

  14. To repeat what the gentleman Anthony Clark, Sr. said, “Ya had to be there!” Y’all look up the definition(s) of History. Emphasis on the plural.

  15. I seldom agreed with Rizzo’s policies while he was police commissioner or mayor, but I understood him.
    He was much like my father (born 1921), a product of his time and place.
    I met Rizzo on several occasions, including a press conference in 1972, after which he met with
    aspiring journalists like me, and consistently addressed me as “ma’am”. I was 18 years old.

    A few years later, my husband (Tom) and I encountered him, Tony, and Jimmy in our Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Rizzo was to make a speech at a Northeast recreation enter and was hopelessly lost. He was literally scanning a road map, looking like a lost astronaut in a cheap 50s
    sci-fi film.
    My husband, the human atlas, gave him directions, and he was on his way. A very different, and very human, side of a man considered to be invulnerable.

    Like it or not, Rizzo was part of this city’s crazy, chaotic history. Taking down his statue and destroying his mural will never change that.

    Like it or not, Rizzo was part of Philadelphia’s history.

    Lots of Sarcasm coming at you
    I want to thank our esteemed mayor, the heirs to DiBruno’s, naturally our District Attorney and Police Commissioner. They all have gathered together in their bunker and decided once again, to throw the people of Philadelphia under the bus !
    The Rizzo statue is gone. ( I don’t doubt that Uncle Frank, a long time ago, would have said, get rid of it ). Their is no support – and hasn’t been – for Philly’s finest . I’m sure PFD is next on the list. Who did I miss ? The Wolf/ Kenny/ Krasner ( SOROS ) team is far from done !

  17. To all who point fingers at the weakness and sins of those from the past I say, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

    Stu: In all of your writings since day one of your columns, one thing stands out boldly: You cannot be categorized as either right or left, liberal or conservative. Your opinions are always based on facts, and you do not hesitate to point out the bad guys on both sides of the aisle.

    1. Listened a bit to Dom Giordano this morning. Heard John McNesby FOP president. I went to the store and bought water and power drinks and took to FOP Lodge on Caroline Rd off of Comly Rd. in NE Philly. Saw 3 National Guard at one of the entrances to Philadelphia Mills (Mall) on Knights Road. Waved and yelled to be careful. They acknowledged.
      Suggestion: Take some water and drinks to your local police district stations, no matter where you live.
      Stay safe

  18. Well done, Stu. Thank you for standing up for the memory of a great Philadelphian and an outstanding mayor.

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