What to Know
- The Frank Rizzo statue in the shadow of Philadelphia's City Hall won't be moved for at least a couple years.
- The statue along with a mural in South Philly have been the target of activists and vandals angry of Rizzo's legacy.
- Current Mayor Jim Kenney said it would cost the city $200,000 to take down the 10-foot statue and store it until it could be moved.
Months after several protests and vandalism caused Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's administration to announce that the Frank Rizzo statue would be moved from its current location across from City Hall, the controversial bronze is still years away from going anywhere.
The planned relocation of a statue of the late Philadelphia mayor, a polarizing figure in the city's history, has been put on hold for at least two more years.
The city had not previously stated when the statue would be moved, only that it would be moved. Costs and logistics are in part responsible for the wait to move the bronze. Kenney said it would cost the city $200,000 to take down the 10-foot statue and store it until it could be moved, adding its relocation is not a priority for him.
"Of all the issues on my scale of important things to do, this is not even in the Top 100," Kenney told Philly.com on Thursday. The mayor said on WHYY that "with all the things I'm dealing with — from poverty to opioid abuse to schools to education issues — this is the last on my list."
Those who want the statue to stay put remember Rizzo as a devoted public servant. His detractors say he led a police force that brutalized minorities.
After months of public debate, Philadelphia officials announced last fall they would remove the iconic statue from its prominent downtown perch on Thomas Paine Plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building. The full-body, hand-waving Rizzo looks south, several yards from the busy intersection of JFK Boulevard and North 15th Street.
The plan is to wait until renovation of Paine Plaza begins in 2020 or 2021 to move the Rizzo statue, Kenney's office told NBC10.
"Several sites in South Philadelphia are still being considered," the City said. "We will soon begin to engage neighbors and community organizations to determine both the connection between Mayor Rizzo and the neighborhood, as well as the community’s level of support to house the statue."
The statue was donated to the city and unveiled in 1999. Last year, city officials took public comment on the issue and received thousands of suggestions on what to do with the statue.
Word of the delay brought a swift backlash online, with Rizzo's critics excoriating the current mayor as a "coward" and suggesting politics was at play. The delay will push the move beyond Kenney's re-election campaign next year. Kenney denied his re-election played a role in the decision.
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On Friday, Blacks Lives Matter Pennsylvania activist Asa Khalif called for people to "bring rope and chains" to tear down the Rizzo statue instead of waiting for the city to act.
As the battle continues over the Frank Rizzo statue, so does the battle over the future of the Rizzo mural at 9th and Montrose streets in South Philadelphia's Italian Market neighborhood. The mural has been cleaned up after various incidents of vandalism, causing a cost burden for taxpayers.
The mural is maintained by Mural Arts Philadelphia and the City is working to secure private funding for its upkeep. The artist and owner of the building on which the Rizzo mural is painted don't want it removed, Mural Arts said.
"Mural Arts also feels that providing historical context for the mural through signage is an important next step," the art commission said in a statement to NBC10. "That context will acknowledge its controversy and lift up the power of public art to invite and inspire reflection on our past and dialogue about our future as a city."
Rizzo's critics, many of them people of color, recall his approach to policing and governing as corrupt and racist. The South Philadelphia native served as mayor from 1972 to 1980 and is remembered by supporters as a devoted, outspoken public servant who championed the city.
Rizzo became police commissioner in 1967, memorably responding to a disturbance at a housing project wearing a tuxedo with a nightstick tucked into his cummerbund. He served two terms as mayor as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.
His four-year stint as commissioner was marked by praise for crime-fighting and criticism for rights infringement, and it was punctuated by some confrontations with African-Americans. In 1967, Rizzo and the police confronted a few hundred black students protesting outside the Board of Education Building. Officers clubbed some of the students after a few climbed atop cars. In 1970, two groups affiliated with the Black Panthers were raided and strip-searched on the sidewalk.
Yet he's also credited with hiring large numbers of African-American officers and promoting several black officers during his stint as commissioner.
Rizzo's son, former City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., said the statue should stay where it is.
"There's going to be a fight," he said Thursday.