PHILADELPHIA (AP) — After months of public debate, Philadelphia officials said Friday they will remove the iconic statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo from its prominent downtown location in the shadow of City Hall.
Rizzo's likeness becomes the latest casualty in a national conversation around the fate of statues honoring Confederate generals and other racially charged, publicly displayed figures and symbols in American history. Calls to tear down the Rizzo statue followed a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.
The debate has roiled the city for weeks as Philadelphians have wrestled with Rizzo's complicated legacy. 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.
"He was a very consequential mayor. ... His importance to the city is not a complete positive, but we have to look at his significance in its entirety," said Philadelphia attorney Christine Flowers. "I'm not happy at all. There are communities of color who have very, very bad memories of Mayor Rizzo, but what we need is transparency, not to hide this away in the corner."
Flowers suggested a marker that more fully explained Rizzo's history as a better solution to the issue.
Rizzo's critics, many of them people of color, recall his approach to policing and governing as corrupt and racist, and say his actions are a reminder of the current polarized political climate.
"He tells us a lot about who Philadelphia was, and now our public spaces tell a different story about who we aspire to be and what our future holds for us," said city councilwoman Helen Gym, who called for the statue to be relocated in August. "Relocating the statue is not and has never been about erasing history. It's about acknowledging how complex and complicated our history is, and being thoughtful and deliberate about what images we uphold in our public spaces."
Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif said the city's decision represents "the will of the people, especially those who are black and brown for whom the statue represents generational oppression and violence."
"It sends the message that there is very little tolerance for white supremacy and racism and celebrating those in the past who have oppressed black and brown people," said Khalif, adding that Rizzo's actions and demeanor preceded the country's current racial climate around issues of community policing and outspoken rhetoric.
The statue, a towering bronze sculpture depicting a waving Rizzo descending the plaza steps of a government building, was donated to the city and unveiled in 1999. City officials took public comment on the issue earlier this fall and received more than 4,000 suggestions on what to do with the statue. The city has not said when and where the statue will be moved.