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The Rizzo statue: Should it stay or should it go?

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After Charlottesville, Philly reacts to Frank L. Rizzo Monument

Fences surround the Frank L. Rizzo Monument in Philly on Thursday, August 17.
Photos by Melissa Romero

It’s has been a long week for the Frank L. Rizzo Monument in Center City. In a matter of days, it has been egged, cordoned off with a metal fence, and, most recently, tagged with graffiti.

Late Thursday night, someone spray-painted the words “Black Power” onto the bronze, 9-foot-tall statue at Thomas Paine Plaza. According to reports, city crews responded quickly and used soap and brooms to wash away the graffiti by early morning.

It’s the latest string of events surrounding the Rizzo statue, which has been in the spotlight after the violent protests that occurred in Charlottesville last weekend. While Philly does not have any Confederate monuments—Pennsylvania is home to two—it does have the Rizzo statue.

The monument was erected in 1998 in honor of Mayor Rizzo, who served two terms as mayor from 1960 to 1980. Previous to that he served as police commissioner. He was known for his tough tactics, especially against African Americans and the LGBTQ community, which is why critics have called for the removal of the statue multiple times over the years.

The request has surfaced again in recent days, with an online petition garnering nearly 3,500 signatures to remove the statue. Meanwhile, another online petition has more than 20,000 signatures to keep the statue where it is, in front of the city’s Municipal Services Building.

Here’s a sampling of how Philadelphians, including city officials and residents, have reacted over the Rizzo statue this past week.

It started on Monday with a tweet from City Councilwoman Helen Gym:

Soon after, Mayor Kenney said in a statement, “We think now is a good time to have that conversation about the statue’s future,” adding that there needed to be a proper forum to make that discussion happen.

Jane Golden, founder of the Mural Arts program, wrote in an editorial in the Inquirer that it was time to start a discussion about both the statue and a South Philly mural that has been vandalized multiple times over the years:

The Rizzo mural in the Italian Market has been both beloved and reviled since its creation in 1995 by artist Diane Keller. It exemplifies how personal the response to public art can be. For any given artwork, some may feel strongly represented by its symbolism, and some may view it as a reminder of a painful history.

Mural Arts has a long history of responding to community voices. Now is the time for a public conversation about the Rizzo mural.

Even Zenos Frudakis, the artist who created the statue, weighed in on the monument’s future. He suggested that perhaps the statue could be moved from its central location. Others have argued to put it in a museum.

I think there should be conversation. I don’t think people should rush. What sculpture do we have of somebody who is flawless? [...] Should he be front and center across from City Hall? Well, that’s something people should talk about. Rizzo got elected twice by a majority of people in Philadelphia — and he probably would have gotten elected a third time if he hadn’t died. But if the majority now would prefer to see him somewhere else, maybe a nice park in South Philly, that’s something we can talk about.

Meanwhile, others said time had passed for talking—now’s the time to take the statue down. Local artist Joe Boruchow put it this way:

Some even go so far as to say that it’s not just the Rizzo statue that should be removed—the entire Thomas Paine Plaza needs to go, says political organization Philadelphia 3.0.

There's probably no way to change the minds of the hard core Rizzo supporters, but to win over more moderate voters who may be on the fence about this, Kenney needs to pivot to a positive message about what the Municipal Services Building and Thomas Paine Plaza--two of the most frequently used public spaces--should be. [...] Pivoting from the narrow question of the Rizzo statue to a broader conversation about how to redesign the whole plaza for the future of Philadelphia gives Kenney some more political cover to move the statue.

Got your own thoughts? We want to know from Curbed readers whether the Rizzo statue should stay or go. Take our poll.

If you’ve got suggestions on its fate, like places where it could be relocated, leave a comment.

Poll

What should happen to the Rizzo statue?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Remove it.
    (140 votes)
  • 45%
    Let it stay.
    (134 votes)
  • 6%
    I’m undecided.
    (19 votes)
293 votes total Vote Now

Thomas Paine Plaza

1401 John F Kennedy Boulevard, , PA 19102