August 10, 2018
It’s been a few minutes since the Frank Rizzo Monument was in the news, after being consistently in the headlines amid a heated dispute about its legacy and future.
That changed with Friday’s confirmation that a) it’s still where it’s been for the past two decades and b) it will remain there for at least two or three more years.
Granted, the city announced in November 2017 that the statue of the former – and controversial – police commissioner and mayor would be moved. They even put out a public call for suggestions of where it should be relocated.
Back then, estimates for any action was a “minimum (of) six months” for officials to take action on any relocation.
Many people – including myself – forgot about the “minimum” part of that scheduling nugget, as well as another portion.
“All of our ensuing public statements made clear that the removal of the Rizzo statue would be tied to the re-envisioning of Paine Plaza, which has always been on the two-three-year time frame, as laid out in the Capital Program delivered by the Mayor to City Council last March,” said Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney.
Kenney’s outgoing chief-of-staff Jane Slusser told the Daily News that the administration has spent a year narrowing the field to five potential sites, and that community discussions and a feasibility study still need to be performed.
Kenney said it wasn’t a political decision to push any decision off until after his 2019 re-election effort, a statement that didn’t sit very well with Rizzo’s namesake son.
“The delay is obviously a political decision,” said Frannie Rizzo, the former city councilman. “I will oppose any movement of the statue and be supportive of any political people who don’t want to move it. It’s a shame this has become so political.
“He’s waiting for the (2019) election to pass so it won’t damage his chances. I have more lawyers that are calling me to help get an injunction if need be.”
"The delay is obviously a political decision." – Frank Rizzo Jr., former city councilman and son of the former mayor and police commissioner
Though it’s become an afterthought of sorts, Rizzo doesn’t accept that the statue should be moved to South Philadelphia.
“It should stay in Paine Plaza,” he said. “My father was born and raised in South Philadelphia, but that’s not the reason he has a statue. He was a police officer, police commissioner and mayor of all the neighborhoods in Philadelphia. I don’t understand the rationale that he’s limited it to five or six choices in South Philly.”
Not as measured in his reaction was Rizzo’s grandson, Joe Mastronardo, who called Kenney “a fraud and a phony. He’s an embarrassment. He makes me sick.”
Heartened by his uncle’s willingness to step up and oppose the move, Mastronardo said the underlying issue behind the move itself – that his grandfather was racist – is faulty.
“The whole issue is a fraud, a lie. (President Donald) Trump won so the left has to latch onto whatever they can,” said Mastronardo, mocking Kenney's "sanctuary city" dance as beneath the office his grandfather once held. “People alive during those times know things were much different then. Those times sometimes called for beating the s*** out of criminals. Too f***ing bad.”
Among the voices loudly calling for the statue’s removal is Asa Khalif, a leader of Black Lives Matter in Pennsylvania. He’s led several protests at the site, putting a Ku Klux Klan hood over its head in 2016 and threatening to personally tear it down a year later.
He reiterated that latter threat on Friday to PhillyVoice.
"I'm asking every black and brown activist to put aside any issues we may have with each other and meet up September 3 with ropes and chains and together tear the statue down,” he said. "White allies are also welcome. Let's show this city and the Kenney administration what true people power looks like.”
“Go knock yourself out,” Mastronardo sighed when asked for reaction to that. “I’m not sure they understand the physics of bringing a statue down. They would probably end up crushing themselves underneath it.”
For his part, Frannie Rizzo said that the opposing side can “do whatever they want, legally” to make their opinions heard.
“I don’t like when people make threats,” he said. “The Philadelphia Police Department wouldn't allow damage to public property, which this statue has been since 1999. There’s no place for that kind of rhetoric.”
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