Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Philadelphia, The End Of An Era

According to local legend, on an afternoon in October 1950, New York Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio handed a cigarette to Francis Lazaro "Frank" Rizzo, a young cop who was part of the security detail at Shibe Park, and then hit a home run to win Game 2 of the World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies. The story, like many Rizzo told, probably is apocryphal, but it helped cement the Rizzo legend as he rose through the ranks to became police commissioner and then mayor.

Even as a young cop, Rizzo was a lightning rod for controversy. His brusk manner seldom made friends and often made enemies, notably with Philadelphia’s black community. While the relationship between blacks and the police had never been particularly good, it reached now lows in the eight stormy years he was commissioner when
The Philadelphia Inquirer published a series of exposes about police brutality, corruption and other misconduct, and improved only slightly later during Rizzo’s two terms as mayor.

If anything, Rizzo’s tough-guy reputation was even greater nationally, in part because of a widely published photograph of him arriving at a dinner with a nightstick sticking out of his tuxedo jacket. His claims that Yuppies were going to contaminate Philadelphia’s water supply with LSD and the city would be overrun with protesters during the 1976 American Bicentennial celebration were false and the disappointingly small number of visitors to the summer-long celebration were attributed to Rizzo’s claims.

Rizzo's only child, Francis Lazaro "Franny" Rizzo Jr., a city employee active in South Philadelphia politics, was very much in his father's shadow until Frank Sr. died in 1991.

Then in 1995, Rizzo ran for an at-large City Council seat, defeating Councilwoman Joan Specter, the wife of then-U.S. Senator Arlen Specter.
In contrast to his bombastic father, Frank Jr. was low-key and if he became involved in a controversy, it is because it had sought him out. While it was widely assumed that Frank Jr. would keep his council seat as long as he chose, Philadelphia voters thought otherwise and he was defeated yesterday in the city's Republican primary.

Rizzo Jr. finished seventh out of nine candidates in the primary. His loss is being attributed to his participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan under which he received a lump-sum payment from his City pension while continuing to receive his salary as a member of City Council.

And so after six-plus decades, a Rizzo is no longer part of Philadelphia government, although the legend of Frank Sr. will live on.

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