On Sunday morning, Mark, Paul and I went to the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. There we saw this mural of the late Mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo. Rizzo, a Democrat, was elected in 1971 and served two four-year terms. When I was in college he tried his first comeback as a Republican. It was then that I became familiar with his legendary career as a provocateur. Ironically, I recently finished Rick Perlstein’s fabulous new book Nixonland, which I still have with me on the trip so I’m in an excellent position to share.
Here are some quotes from Perlstein’s book to give you an idea what he was like:
p. 521: “[Police] Chief Frank Rizzo, mulling a 1971 run for mayor, said they [the Black Panthers] “should be strung up.” He added, “I mean, within the law.”
p. 732: “[Nixon] made a “non-political” visit to Philadelphia as a guest of Mayor Rizzo–who told his political machine…”either the President wins in their areas or they look for another job.”
Perlstein never used the most famous Frank Rizzo quotes. You can find a few of them here.
Rizzo died suddenly during his 1991 comeback campaign, which might explain the memorial to him in South Philly. However, it is also a sign that Rizzo-ism, what Perlstein calls Richard Nixon’s attempts at “positive polarization,” namely creating tensions between Democratic constituencies in order to improve the chances of Republican candidates, lives on.
Somehow I doubt the people who own the building with the Rizzo mural on it will be voting for Obama in November. It will be interesting to see if that matters.