Philadelphia's Divisive Mayor Rizzo, In His Own Words

Like President Trump, former Mayor Frank Rizzo styled himself as a straight talker.
By Matt Spolar

A statue of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s former police chief turned “law-and-order” mayor, was taken down from across City Hall this week after years of complaints that it was a monument to brutal, racist policing. In recent weeks, it was again a rallying point for protesters, this time in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Rizzo rose to power during the fight for civil rights in the 1960s. As manufacturing jobs moved out of Philadelphia, he stoked a blue-collar conservatism that found intense support in white ethnic neighborhoods. Like President Trump, he styled himself as a straight talker.

Rizzo’s way with words was so remarkable that even his opponents cashed in. In 1977, an anthology of his wildest quotes to reporters was published by the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action in a book titled, “The Sayings of Chairman Frank, or I Never Saw My Mother Naked.”

Here are some excerpts:

  • Rizzo on running for mayor in 1972: “I’ll make you a rich man. I’ll give you $5 for every liberal who jumps off the Walnut Street Bridge when I’m elected.” His goal: “To prevent the do-gooders and ultra-liberals from taking over.”
  • On the Black Panthers: “They should be strung up. I mean, within the law. This is actual warfare.”
  • On his reelection: “Just wait after November, you’ll have a front row seat because I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.”
  • On the news media: “I’m convinced The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News are against ethnic groups. I’m convinced The Philadelphia Inquirer is out to destroy me and at the same time destroy Philadelphia.”
  • On polygraph tests: “I have great confidence” in them as an investigative tool. “If this machine says a man lies, he lied.” After failing the test himself, he said, “This examination is not worth the paper it’s written on.”
An image from RetroReport
A Frank Rizzo mural in Philadelphia. (Retro Report)
An image from RetroReport
The same Frank Rizzo mural painted over in white. (Retro Report)

Rizzo’s image as a brawler against the forces of social change retains support from some Philadelphians, and moving his statue was a political football until the city acted this week. A mural looming over the city’s Italian Market was painted over days later.

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