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August 10, 2016

Is Donald Trump the new Frank Rizzo? The former Philadelphia mayor's family weighs in

'He would be too proud' to act like Trump does on the campaign trail, says Rizzo's daughter

Politics Donald Trump
Joanna and Joe Mastronardo Photo courtesy/Joe Mastronardo

Joanna and Joe Mastronardo, daughter and grandson of late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, have differing perspectives on the similarities between the former mayor and presidential candidate Donald Trump.

It was a casual conversation in their Montgomery County kitchen, but when Joanna and Joe Mastronardo got to talking about politics – specifically, Donald Trump – the repartee was akin to the back-and-forth of a cable-news roundtable.

You see, Joanna is the daughter of late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, which makes Joe a grandson of the larger-than-controversial-life figure.

We met to discuss how Rizzo’s name has re-entered the public conversation due to the similarities some see in a certain Republican nominee for president. Our Tuesday morning chat weaved its way through Philadelphia history and national politics of the day.

Joe is firmly – and vehemently – in the Trump camp, while his mother remains undecided. 

Though she most assuredly won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton, she harbors concerns about the Republican’s disposition, and doesn’t take kindly to people who say her father would act like Trump if he were around today.

Here are the highlights of the 90-minute discussion, on the day word arose of what Joe termed a “disgraceful” push to remove the statue of Rizzo from Center City .

•  •  •

Joanna: I don’t think my father would ever be as out-of-control with his temperament and as unprepared that way [as Trump], ever.

Joe: Mom, don’t say that. I don’t agree with that at all. Out of control?

"My grandfather would be exactly like Donald Trump. ... He wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut. He couldn’t keep his opinions to himself." – Joe Mastronardo, grandson of Frank Rizzo

Joanna: I might not vote for Trump. I think Trump’s temperament and his apparent lack of preparedness is showing.

Joe: My mom’s brainwashed by CNN.

PhillyVoice: Well, she could turn right around and say you’re brainwashed by FoxNews.

Joe: I watch both. When I watch CNN, it just angers me. I guess it’s the TV business, playing to their audience, saying what the audience wants to hear, but the black vs. white racism that’s put forth on CNN is really disturbing.

PhillyVoice asked Joanna what she thought her father would think of the Trump campaign and the country he is playing to.

Joanna: The Sixties were such a different time, and it seems like it’s heading back that way now. I think he wouldn’t react today the way he did back then, I’m sure. 

I do know that he wouldn’t tolerate disrespect for the police. He may not react the same way, but again, he’d think it out. That’s the one thing about him, no matter what anyone says. How he said ‘I’m older and wiser now,’ and how he grew. He actually grew. That’s what life’s about, so for anybody to hold actions that were performed, done when he was a policeman, at a time when violence was really increasing in many places, what else could he do? He was a product of his times, too. When he said he grew, I always admired him for that statement, because I knew how deeply he meant it. He was older and wiser.

"I disagree with that. He bit his tongue more than anybody I’ve ever known. Please." – Joanna Mastronardo, Frank Rizzo's daughter

Joe: When I was a kid, when I was growing up, I spent a ton of time with my grandfather. He didn’t treat me like a kid. He treated me like a teenager when I was 8, 9. So I was older than my years. We would go out every weekend, the Shore, car rides, malls, I spent so much time with him that I really knew who he was. I wasn’t just a kid, I was nine when he died, but I spent a ton of time with him. We talked at length about a lot of things, so when I tell you that I know what he would’ve said, or I know what he would’ve done, he said things to me that he didn’t say to other people. He told me the truth about a lot of things, when he was going to run, what really happened with a lot of different things.

He’d be a lot like Trump. Maybe slightly [more reined in than Trump] because he was more of a polished politician. He was a politician, Trump’s not a politician, but I think he’d be a lot like Trump today. I don’t think he’d take this political correctness at all. I think he’d go against the grain a lot. He’d do a lot of things, and say a lot of things, that Trump has done. He wouldn’t take the way things are going. At all.

Joanna: He was a product of his times in many ways, but, because he was as smart as he was, he grew, and that’s what life’s about. Growing. Learning from experience. Listening to negative things that are said about you and ingesting them. That’s what he did. He was quite a different man when he died compared to when he just got started [in politics].

Joe: He also knew that, in order to get elected when he wanted to run for mayor again, that he knew he needed to get the black vote. You have to do certain things, you have to evolve, or else you’re going to be left off to the side. You’re not going to get anywhere.

PhillyVoice: What do you make of people saying that the statue should be taken down?

Joanna: I think that’s ridiculous.

Joe: That’s all that Black Lives Matter/Obama nonsense.

PhillyVoice asked what it’s like to hear the Rizzo name brought back up often in connection with the current election season.

Joe: He’s brought up a lot. When the pope was here. Articles about Trump getting ‘the Rizzo vote,’ people who don’t say who they’re going to vote for and then on Election Day, they come out and vote for Frank Rizzo. Somebody wrote to me on Twitter the other day that ‘your grandfather has been reduced to a laughingstock’ or something like that. I said yeah, that’s why he’s written about every week, because he’s a laughingstock. They were trying to get a rise out of me, I guess.

Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Joe Mastronardo, grandson of late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, is a staunch Donald Trump supporter.

PhillyVoice: Have you always liked Trump?

Joe: I never watched "The Apprentice." I knew who he was. I’m a big wrestling fan and he did some things with the WWE; I think he got ‘you’re fired’ from Vince McMahon, I don’t know that for a fact. Once he started running for president and I started watching him, he really won me over. I really liked his message from the beginning. I saw that there was something special there; he had a charisma, you could see right away that he was going to be against the grain, he wasn’t going to be scripted, he’d say what he wanted to say. I remember thinking, right at the beginning, that this is going to gain steam and he’s going to end up winning.

Joanna: He’s given a voice to the silent majority.

Joe: What it is is courage. He’s got a lot of guts.

Joanna: The down-and-out, the tired, they’re identifying with him. It shows you how many people are discontented. Trump got the message out there that all the people are trying to deliver.

PhillyVoice asked about similarities between the Trump and Rizzo political eras.

Joanna: I don’t think so. I think he was just part of a big-city political structure, a middle-class, lower-middle class population for the most part. A lot of big cities were like this. Race wasn’t the only issue. There were other things. Businesses were starting to leave the city. Unions were very powerful. It was a whole atmosphere; it wasn’t just race, but it was complicated by the race issues. It was the times.

I haven’t decided [who I’ll vote for yet].

Joe: That’s my mom being brainwashed by CNN. You going to vote for Hillary Clinton, one of the worse human beings I’ve ever seen? The country would somehow get worse if she gets elected.

Joanna: I’m not voting for her. Both candidates have the highest negative ratings of any person who ever ran before.

Joe: Trump’s negatives are driven by college kids who have no clue what the hell they’re talking about, never read an article, never watched TV, basing their opinions on some Facebook memes because they’re too lazy to do anything other than that and they just want handouts. The only people I’ve met who like Hillary Clinton are 21-year-old kids who don’t know s---. They always say 'No' if I ask them whether they really know about the issues....

My grandfather would be exactly like Donald Trump because things have just progressed, progressed, progressed to this point. He wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut. He couldn’t keep his opinions to himself.

Joanna: I disagree with that. He bit his tongue more than anybody I’ve ever known. Please.

Joe: You think with all these police officers getting killed in Philadelphia over the past 10 years, because there’s no respect for the law whatsoever … [Fewer] police officers would have died if my grandfather was still alive because he wouldn’t have just taken it.

Joanna: I’ll agree with that, but we’re talking about the similarities that can be drawn between the two.

Joe: I’m willing to forgive a few mistakes that I think he’s made for [his penchant for speaking instantaneously]. I love the guy. Do I think there were a couple unnecessary battles? Yeah, absolutely. I trust him enough that it shows a ‘no-fear’ [mentality].

"I go by the philosophy in life that you treat others like they treat you, with the respect that you expect in return." – Joanna Mastronardo

Joanna: When the Kennedys were introducing John onto the scene when he wanted to run for president, I read this somewhere when I was back in school, his brother Bobby went to him – they lived in Massachusetts, and there weren’t many African-Americans there – and said, Look, this race issue is starting to take over the country and you have to attach yourself to it if you want to become president. Other than that, they had nothing to do with African-Americans before. On a one-to-one basis, they were not attached to the African-American community. History’s a funny thing. People attach themselves to issues. It’s the way it is, especially when you’re in politics. These issues that Trump’s attached himself to, he has a pulse on people. For all his weaknesses, he has a lot of savvy.

Joe: [Trump] walked into a fixed system, with everyone against him, and he won. He beat the system. Beat the system.

Joanna: It was timing. He’d probably been keeping a list for 10 years. His temperament, I can almost deal with, but it’s the lack of preparedness that gets to me, not knowing Russia was already in the Ukraine. It blows my mind. I can’t imagine. These people that he’s paying to advise him? What the heck?

I remember we would say something to my father – my brother, me, my mother – he would listen. He wouldn’t go out and act like that. I think, sometimes, he’s incorrigible.

Joe: That’s a good thing. That means he won’t back down.

Joanna: Well, you know, sometimes you have to back down.

Joe: That’s a good thing, being incorrigible. That’s what we need.

Joanna: Oh God.

Joe: People have no guts in this country. [Clint] Eastwood was right: The country’s soft.

Joanna: The last two weeks have really hurt Trump. A lot of people I talk to say he can’t come back from it. I don’t believe that. I think he can. It’s really a shame. You pick your talking points when you’re running for something, and he shot himself in the foot.

I just can’t believe the temperament issue, but I think Trump tapped into everything that is affecting Americans who are not in the upper five percent.

When I was a kid, in my teens, you were exposed to the news through your newspaper in the morning and evening. Now it’s constant. If a truck turns over in Minnesota, you know it.

Joe: They make stories out of nothing. The liberal media’s out of control.

Joanna: ...In the days my father was mayor, as strong-willed as my father could be, when [confidant and attorney] Marty Weinberg, or [managing director] Hillel Levinson, or any of those guys would say something, he always listened, and he'd never, ever disregard what they said.

Going to school – high school and college – at a time when he was actually running for mayor, [candidate] Bill Green came to Chestnut Hill [College]. He got up there and gave a nasty speech to the student body. I got up and walked out. It was hard. I just can’t imagine how they let [Trump] go on like this.

Joe: I think Barack Obama is the worst thing to ever happen to the United States of America. I think he’s the worst human being.

PhillyVoice: Oh, he’s not the worst human being.

Joe: I think he’s the ultimate divider.

Joanna: Stop acting like you know who. Trump.

I go by the philosophy in life that you treat others like they treat you, with the respect that you expect in return. The problem is that when you use the vernacular that Trump uses, it’s hard to execute it in the real world. You know what I mean?

Joe: My grandfather was very similar to Donald Trump. Let’s just cut the bull.

Joanna: He attached himself to issues that were relevant at the time.

Joe: He wouldn’t take any of this nonsense that’s going on. The way they try to shove the politically-correct stuff down your throat nowadays, he would not be able to keep his mouth shut at all. No way, shape or form. My grandfather would almost be exactly like Donald Trump. He’d be little more polished, smart and controlled about it. Otherwise, he would not sit there and just read from a script.

PhillyVoice: I don’t think he was ever considered unhinged, though.

Joanna: And that’s what bothers me [about Trump]. Temperament and a lack of preparedness.

Joe: I agree with that.

Joanna: The only time I ever saw him lose his composure was when he was walking the dog …

PhillyVoice: The ‘crumb bum” thing?!

Joe: People send me that video almost once a day.

Joanna: I hear there’s a radio show that uses that all the time. That was the first and last time I’ve ever seen him lose his composure. I was in the kitchen. He came in, and he was white. I could tell something was wrong. ‘What happened?’ And he said that guy, I’m walking the dog, minding my own business, and he stuck a camera in my face, almost knocked my nose off my face.

Joe: What they did to [my grandfather] all those years, they tried to paint him as a racist.

Joanna: That was their revenge. That’s how they got back at him.

PhillyVoice: It would be that kind of scene, the crumb-bum confrontation, all the time with the way the media landscape is today.

Joe: Absolutely. But my grandfather would be a little bit more polished…

Joanna: Not a little bit. A lot more polished. He was too proud to act like [Trump]. … I wasn’t going to talk today, but you really got me going.

PhillyVoice: Happy you did!

Joe: My mom’s absolutely voting for Donald Trump. I won’t have it any other way.

Joanna: You can’t come in the booth with me.

Credit/Rizzo family photo

Joanna Mastronardo kisses her father, former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, on her wedding day.

After the interview ended, PhillyVoice called Rizzo's son, the former Republican city councilman, to see where he stood on the Trump-Rizzo comparison.

Frannie Rizzo: My dad was an outspoken guy, but I don't remember him insulting people. Well, the only time he'd insult someone was a criminal.

Now, I'm a big Trump supporter. I have pictures in my house down the Shore of us together. The last couple of weeks have been pivotal for him. People are having second thoughts about voting for him, and the polls reflect that. I'd think as a businessman, he'd see that insulting people doesn't work if you want to be successful.

My dad was a police officer in the '50s, '60s, '70s, and he knew that if you were polite, people would react in a polite way. I can't remember him ever being hurtful. He was a tough guy, but he was fair.