Frank Rizzo

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For his son, member of the Philadelphia City Council, see Frank L. Rizzo, Jr..
For his Jerky Boys character, Frank Rizzo, see The Jerky Boys.


Frank Rizzo
Frank Rizzo 1972.jpg
Rizzo in 1972
120th Mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In office
January 3, 1972 – January 7, 1980
Preceded by James H. J. Tate
Succeeded by William J. Green, III
Commissioner of the
Philadelphia Police Department
In office
April 10, 1967 – February 2, 1971
Preceded by Edward Bell
Succeeded by Joseph O'Neil
Personal details
Born Francis Lazarro Rizzo
(1920-10-23)October 23, 1920
Died July 16, 1991(1991-07-16) (aged 70)
Resting place Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
Political party Democratic (while in office)
Other political
affiliations
Republican (1986–1991)
Spouse(s) Carmella Silvestri
Children Frank L. Rizzo, Jr.
Joanna Rizzo Mastronardo
Frank Rizzo
Born (1920-10-23)October 23, 1920
Died July 16, 1991(1991-07-16) (aged 70)
Police career
Department Philadelphia Police Department
Allegiance United States
Years of service 1943-1971
Rank Police Commissioner
Appointed 1967
Other work Mayor of Philadelphia
Statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo that stands in front of the Municipal Services Building in Center City Philadelphia

Francis Lazarro "Frank" Rizzo, Sr. (October 23, 1920 – July 16, 1991) was an American police officer and politician. He served as Philadelphia police commissioner from 1968 to 1971 and mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980.

Police commissioner[edit]

Rizzo joined the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1940s, rising through the ranks to become police commissioner in 1967.[1] He served in that role during the turbulent years of 1967 to 1971, garnering a reputation as a tough, hands-on commissioner.

One of the force's most widely publicized actions under Commissioner Rizzo was raiding the Philadelphia offices of the Black Panther Party on August 31, 1970, just after the Black Panthers had declared war on police officers nationwide[2] and one week before the Panthers planned to convene a "People's Revolutionary Convention" at Temple University. The officers performed a strip-search on the arrested Black Panthers before cameras, after a Fairmount Park Police Officer had been brutally murdered. The picture ran on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News and was seen around the world [3][4] Rizzo did not order the raids, as he was home asleep at the time, but he did defend the officers afterwards, as it was his custom to give officers the benefit of the doubt.

In many respects, Rizzo was not a typical commissioner. He sometimes quarreled with the city's mayor, James H. J. Tate. He was boisterous and brooding, particularly to media. A biography of Rizzo, with an introduction written by future police commissioner John Timoney, recounted: "Of one group of anti-police demonstrators, he is reported to have said, 'When I'm finished with them, I'll make Attila the Hun look like a fag.'" A female reporter who covered the Rizzo years, Andrea Mitchell (now of NBC News), recounted routinely brutish behavior at the force as part of a broad pattern of Rizzo bravado.[5]

Rizzo resigned in 1971 to run for mayor.[6]

Relationship with African Americans and police riots[edit]

Rizzo's relationship with Philadelphia's African-American community was volatile, with the PPD's reputation suffering among African-Americans. During Rizzo's tenure as division captain and commissioner, critics often charged that he was racially motivated, targeting activities in African-American neighborhoods. But his looming presence during the Columbia Avenue riots in 1968 is credited by many for limiting looting and violence.

Rizzo was personally responsible for promoting several African-American officers during his tenure as commissioner. As deputy police commissioner, he ended practices that had kept African American officers from manning patrol cars, after Philadelphia's first African-American police captain, James Reaves, had accused the department of being racially biased.[7] It was during Rizzo's tenure as deputy commissioner that black and white officers assigned to the city's African American neighborhoods worked in tandem in an attempt to reduce friction between citizens and police.[8] Commissioner Rizzo's department boasted one of the largest percentages of African American officers among large U.S. police departments, with 20% in 1968, at a time when other departments had little if any success in recruiting African-Americans.[9] Rizzo himself suffered discrimination for most of his young life and career as a police officer as individuals of Italian-American descent were very low on mid 20th century Philadelphia's socio-ethnic ladder. Rizzo overcame anti-Italian sentiment in the Philadelphia Police Department which was dominated by Irish-Americans, many of whom were not supportive of his nomination to police commissioner in 1967.

Rizzo's handling of the first MOVE incident in 1978 can be interpreted as supporting the charge of racism. The radical group lived in squalid conditions, with infestations of rats encroaching on adjacent properties. When members of the group refused entrance to city inspectors social services agents, Rizzo evicted them through police action. Though MOVE members disagreed, it was claimed that Officer James Ramp was killed by MOVE gunfire. Eventually, the standoff was resolved without further loss of life, and the members of MOVE were arrested. One unarmed MOVE member, Delbert Africa, was beaten while leaving the MOVE house with his hands up, an incident captured by the local news media.

Mayor of Philadelphia[edit]

The mural on the left shows Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia's Italian Market.

Election to first term[edit]

Rizzo actually functioned as mayor before his election. Toward the end of his term, Mayor James Tate announced on television that he was retiring and naming Rizzo "de facto" mayor of Philadelphia. Asked if this was legal, Tate only laughed and replied that he was retiring. Rizzo finally ran for mayor in 1971. That year, he faced Democratic mayoral candidates Rep. William J. Green, a former Democratic city chairman; State Rep. Hardy Williams, and former city councilman David Cohen. Cohen withdrew from the race and endorsed Green. Rizzo then defeated Green and Williams.

In the November election, Rizzo defeated former (and future) Councilman-at-Large and Chamber of Commerce President W. Thacher Longstreth. Unlike his opponents, Rizzo did not issue campaign position papers; he thought his slogan, "firm but fair," sufficiently explained his expected role. Little animosity existed between the two candidates, and when Rizzo died suddenly during a later mayoral campaign in 1991, Longstreth wept.

First term[edit]

But Rizzo was not without enemies, even at the start of his first term. The Evening Bulletin interviewed Former Mayor and School Board President Richardson Dilworth about allegations he made in the San Francisco Chronicle that Rizzo had used the police for political espionage; Dilworth's allegations launched a new and enduring feud between the two.

Grateful for the positive publicity local media had given him as police commissioner, Rizzo awarded jobs to two dozen local reporters. This quid pro quo caused suspicion and, more significantly, removed Rizzo's most enthusiastic supporters from the media. The change in ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News also changed the bias of media coverage. The two newspapers had previously been owned by the Annenberg family, and both had given Commissioner Rizzo broad and favorable coverage. But the papers were sold to Knight Newspapers, later Knight-Ridder Newspapers. By the start of Rizzo's first term, the staff of the Inquirer, friendly to Rizzo, had largely been supplanted by younger journalists, led by one of the nation's most aggressive young editors, Eugene Roberts, formerly national editor of The New York Times. Roberts and his staff emphasized investigative reporting, and the Rizzo administration, among other local institutions, was the subject of many critical stories.

Two months after being sworn in, Rizzo endorsed Richard Nixon, a Republican, for re-election as US president. In return for Rizzo's support, the victorious Nixon granted more federal funding to Philadelphia. But the action alienated many of Rizzo's supporters in his own party. The Democratic city committee, Democrats on city council, and party chairman Peter Camiel viewed Rizzo's action as a betrayal.

Lie detector scandal[edit]

Rizzo clashed with the media well into his term. He held frequent press conferences in which he discussed matters in colorful and often bombastic language. After Camiel accused Rizzo of offering patronage in exchange for influencing the choice of candidates for district attorney and city comptroller, Rizzo called Camiel a liar. A reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News asked Rizzo if he would submit to a polygraph test to prove Camiel was lying. Rizzo agreed, as did Camiel. "If this machine says a man lied, he lied," Rizzo famously said before the test.[10] But the polygraph revealed that Rizzo had lied and Camiel had not. The scandal ended any hope Rizzo had of becoming governor. He discontinued his press conferences for nearly two years and attempted to rebuild his public support by appealing directly to voters.[11]

Election to second term[edit]

Just wait after November you'll have a front row seat because I'm going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.

— Rizzo, during his 1975 reelection campaign[12]

In the 1975 Democratic primary, Rizzo defeated State Senator Louis G. Hill, Dilworth's nephew, who was supported by Camiel. In the November election, Rizzo defeated independent candidate Charles Bowser, a leading African-American attorney and former City Councilman at Large, and Thomas M. Foglietta, who later represented a large portion of the city in Congress.[citation needed]

Second-term developments[edit]

During Rizzo's second term, African-American community activist and future Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode sued the city in federal court, alleging racial discrimination in the police and fire departments. The fire department was headed by Joseph Rizzo, the mayor's brother. The suit led to the adoption of the influential "Philadelphia Plan", calling for affirmative action in civil service hiring and promotions.

An interesting feature of Rizzo's mayoralty was the establishment and mayor sanctioning of a publicly funded "anti-defamation agency" to combat pejorative remarks about Philadelphia. The agency's best-publicized action was the boycott of S.O.S. Soap Pads, after a television commercial broadcast nationally referred to the city disparagingly. The manufacturer withdrew the offending commercial.

Construction began on The Gallery at Market East shopping mall and the Center City Commuter Connection, a commuter tunnel that connected and combined the city's old and historically independent railroad systems, the Reading Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Philadelphia Gas Works, known locally as PGW, had been managed by a private company. During Rizzo's tenure, it was taken over by the city. PGW then implemented senior citizens discounts and generous municipal labor contracts and expanded patronage hiring.

During Rizzo's second term, two reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer, William K. Marimow and Jon Neuman, began a long series about Philadelphia police brutality that allegedly had been covered up by the department. The series won a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper.

Tax increase and recall attempt[edit]

In his successful second mayoral campaign in 1975, Rizzo campaigned under the slogan, "He held the line on taxes". Soon after the election, he persuaded City Council to increase the city's wage tax from 3.31% to 4.31%, one of the highest in the nation. The action infuriated Rizzo's opponents and led fiscal conservatives to join them in attempting to recall Rizzo from the mayor's office. Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal activist group that had played a key role in moving Philadelphia from Republican to Democratic control in the late 1940s and early 1950s, gathered the 250,000 signatures required. Polls showed Rizzo losing by a wide margin. Rizzo's allies counterattacked by challenging the validity of the signatures as well as the recall procedure itself. Then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared the Charter's recall provision unconstitutional by one vote. The decision was written by Chief Justice Robert N. C. Nix, elected to the court with Rizzo's support in 1971.

Rizzo opponents, while greatly disheartened, elected Edward G. Rendell as district attorney in 1977 and organized a campaign to elect anti-Rizzo Democratic committee persons and elected officials in the 1978 primaries.

Attempt for third consecutive term[edit]

Facing Philadelphia's two consecutive term limit, Rizzo persuaded the Philadelphia City Council to place a charter change question on the ballot in 1978 that would have allowed him to run for a third consecutive term in 1979. In a record turnout for a Philadelphia municipal election, Philadelphians voted two to one against the change, blocking Rizzo from running in 1979. [1] In that election, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick Thornburgh won a larger-than-expected percentage of the black vote (for a Republican) and the governorship against a heavily favored Democratic opponent. The anti-charter change organization would soon support a "Clean Sweep" ticket for municipal offices in 1979, including former Rep. William J. Green, III, who was elected mayor.

Rizzo played off racial themes during his campaign and made appearances only in predominantly white parts of the city. Reporter Robert R. Frump, who covered the campaign for The Philadelphia Inquirer, recalled that Rizzo would frequently say, "My opponents are saying 'Vote Black! I say, vote ... your ... mind!" He denied that this statement was racially motivated.

Post-mayoral career[edit]

Between 1983 and 1986, Rizzo served as a security consultant at The Philadelphia Gas Works, controversially, as he drew a city pension at the same time, and hosted one of Philadelphia's most popular radio talk shows, a tradition later emulated by his son, Republican City Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr. During his time at PGW, Rizzo saved the utility over three million dollars by curbing the theft.

Rizzo had been a Republican until the Dilworth Administration but a Democrat while mayor, even while supporting Republican President Richard M. Nixon; he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1983, losing to Wilson Goode. In 1986, he became a Republican and ran as a Republican in the mayoral election of 1987. In 1991, he set out to do so again. That year, he won the Republican primary against former Philadelphia District Attorney (and later chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) Ronald D. Castille in a hardball campaign in which Rizzo criticized Castille's drinking habits and veracity. Rizzo's win evoked a "last hurrah", with Rizzo vowing to change his political legacy, specifically by campaigning in black neighborhoods. On the Friday before his death, he walked through the largely black 52nd Street neighborhood in West Philadelphia with community leaders.

In his campaign against the Democratic candidate, former District Attorney (and later two-term Pennsylvania Governor) Edward G. Rendell, Rizzo was expected to again employ hardball tactics. But on July 16, 1991, he died of a massive heart attack while campaigning just before his anticipated primary victory. He was pronounced dead at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital at 2:12 p.m. EDT.

Joseph M. Egan, Jr., replaced Rizzo as the Republican nominee. Rendell went on to win the November election and served two terms as mayor.

Funeral and memorials[edit]

Rizzo's funeral was the largest in the history of Philadelphia, with tens of thousands of people lining the streets of the motorcade from the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to the cemetery. People lined the streets five deep from the Cathedral to the cemetery in Cheltenham. He was interred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

A statue of Mayor Rizzo waving in greeting, created by sculptor Zeno Frudakis, stands in front of Philadelphia's Municipal Services Building. The ten-foot-high statue was paid for by private contributions. In his hometown neighborhood of South Philadelphia, a mural portrait of Rizzo is found at the Italian Market on Ninth Street.

Bibliography[edit]

The Cop Who Would Be King, by Philadelphia Bulletin journalists Joseph R. Daughen and Peter Binzen, is widely considered the most authoritative account of Frank Rizzo's rise to power. Sal Paolantonio's book, Rizzo: The Last Big Man In Big City America, is currently Rizzo's definitive biography. More critical comments on Rizzo's tenure as police commissioner and mayor are found in Andrea Mitchell's book Talking Back. Phyllis Kaniss' The Media and the Mayor's Race is an analysis of local journalistic coverage of Rizzo's last campaign; it describes the tactics he used against Castille and planned to use against Rendell.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Board Under Fire On Rights Issue". The Meriden Journal. April 13, 1967. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Frank Rizzo, The Last Big Man in Big City America pt. 1"
  3. ^ Bolling, D."He's Seen It All", CityPaper.net August 22, 2002
  4. ^ 85th Birthday Celebration for Elwood P. Smith
  5. ^ Mitchell, A., Me and Frank, PhiladelphiaWeekly.com September 7, 2005.
  6. ^ "Philadelphia Police Commissioner Rizzo To Make Race For Mayor". The Observer-Reporter. February 3, 1971. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ Black Cops James N. Reaves
  8. ^ "Doing No Good". Time. September 4, 1964. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  9. ^ "The Thin Blue Line". Time. July 19, 1968. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  10. ^ Daughen, Joseph R.; Binzen, Peter (1977). The Cop Who Would Be King: Mayor Frank Rizzo. p. 238. 
  11. ^ Daughen, Joseph R.; Binzen, Peter (1977). The Cop Who Would Be King: Mayor Frank Rizzo. p. 238-241. 
  12. ^ "The Nation: Thoughts of Chairman Rizzo". Time. October 24, 1977. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  13. ^ The Media and the Mayor's Race / Indiana University Press

External links[edit]

Police appointments
Preceded by
Edward Bell
Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department
1967–1971
Succeeded by
Joseph O'Neil
Political offices
Preceded by
James Tate
Mayor of Philadelphia
1972–1980
Succeeded by
Bill Green, III