Remembering Frank Rizzo

Phil­adelphi­ans either loved or hated Frank L. Rizzo’s out­spoken ways, but his broth­er re­called a dif­fer­ent side to the former may­or and po­lice com­mis­sion­er.

Joe Rizzo, the former fire com­mis­sion­er who still works as an in­vest­ig­at­or for the law firm Cozen O’Con­nor, re­mem­bers his older broth­er routinely ap­prov­ing trans­fer re­quests for cops and fire­men and feed­ing and talk­ing to his par­rot.

“He had a roar like a li­on, but he had a heart like a soft marsh­mal­low,” he said.

The young­er Rizzo spoke on Sat­urday af­ter­noon at a ce­re­mony mark­ing the 20th an­niversary of the ex-may­or’s death.

Rizzo­crats gathered in front of a statue of him. It stands on the steps out­side the Mu­ni­cip­al Ser­vices Build­ing near Broad Street and JFK Boulevard.

Frank L. Rizzo served as po­lice com­mis­sion­er be­fore be­ing elec­ted may­or in 1971.

He served two four-year terms, then tried to re­gain the job in 1983, ‘87 and ‘91.

He won the Re­pub­lic­an primary in ‘91 and was to face Demo­crat Ed Rendell in the gen­er­al elec­tion, but he died of a heart at­tack in his cam­paign headquar­ters on Ju­ly 16 of that year.

After a fu­ner­al Mass at the Cathed­ral Ba­silica of Saints Peter and Paul, some 200,000 people lined the streets as his body was driv­en to its fi­nal rest­ing place at Holy Sep­ulchre Cemetery in Chel­ten­ham.

Rizzo loy­al­ists still miss their man.

“I was one of the luck­i­est men in the world to have a broth­er like Frank Rizzo,” Joe Rizzo said.

The day star­ted with the loc­al GOP Riders mo­tor­cycle club trav­el­ing from Rizzo’s graves­ite at Holy Sep­ulchre to the MSB. It ended with a Mass cel­eb­rated in his memory at South Phil­adelphia’s St. Mon­ica Church, which Rizzo helped re­build after a fire four dec­ades ago.

Dom Giord­ano, who hosts a week­day morn­ing show on WPHT (1210 AM), was mas­ter of ce­re­mon­ies out­side the MSB.

Rizzo was a strong sup­port­er of the Mum­mers Parade, and the reign­ing cham­pi­on Quaker City String Band played for the crowd. Katy Siu sang the na­tion­al an­them, God Bless Amer­ica and How Great Thou Art.

Among those who spoke of their af­fec­tion for Rizzo were City Coun­cil­man Frank Rizzo, the late may­or’s son; former Dis­trict At­tor­ney Lynne Ab­ra­ham; former Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Joe O’Neill; re­tired Chan­nel 3 re­port­er Robin Mack­in­tosh; Oscar Vance, chief of the Mont­gomery County de­tect­ives of­fice; and ward lead­er Bill Pet­ti­grew.

Ab­ra­ham read some col­or­ful quotes — but not the most col­or­ful — con­tained in a book pub­lished by Rizzo’s nemes­is, the ul­tra-lib­er­al Amer­ic­ans for Demo­crat­ic Ac­tion. Rizzo sided with people be­ing in­tim­id­ated by the crim­in­al ele­ment.

“If I were you, I’d grab one of those big base­ball bats and lay right in­to the sides of their heads,” the old Phil­adelphia Bul­let­in quoted him in 1975. “If any­thing hap­pens to you, you come to my of­fice, and I’ll come in that courtroom. I’ll be your law­yer.”

The late may­or’s son and broth­er placed a wreath next to the statue. His 94-year-old wid­ow, Car­mella, was un­able to at­tend.

Also in at­tend­ance were Re­pub­lic­an may­or­al can­did­ate Kar­en Brown; GOP Coun­cil at-large can­did­ates Joe Mc­Col­gan and Al Tauben­ber­ger; former state Sen. Bob Rovn­er; Com­mon Pleas Court Judge An­nette Rizzo (no re­la­tion); and Tony Ful­wood, Rizzo’s former body­guard.

A fire truck was parked on the street with a sign that read, “May­or Frank L. Rizzo. One of Phil­adelphia’s Finest. Friend of Po­lice and Fire­fight­ers.”

There was also a strong con­tin­gent from Mont­gomery County. In ad­di­tion to Vance, the group in­cluded the po­lice and fire chiefs of Nor­ris­town and that city’s am­bas­sad­or, Frank “Cisco” Ciac­cio. Mont­gomery County Sher­iff Eileen Behr led the crowd in the Pledge of Al­le­gi­ance.

Vance re­called that Rizzo once told him that Phil­adelphia’s crim­in­als — he called them “crumb-bums” — had stolen everything from the city and were now cross­ing City Av­en­ue in­to Mont­gomery County.

“He was a great po­lice­man, a great com­mis­sion­er and also a great may­or,” Vance said.

Tauben­ber­ger, the Coun­cil can­did­ate and pres­id­ent of the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce, knew Rizzo as someone who loved people and worked hard on the cam­paign trail. He cred­ited the former may­or with provid­ing the Cham­ber’s headquar­ters on Roosevelt Boulevard.

In 1987, Tauben­ber­ger and former con­gress­man Charlie Dougherty were among those help­ing Rizzo’s cam­paign in the North­east. Get­ting people to re­gister Re­pub­lic­an and vote for Rizzo was easy be­cause of the un­pop­ular­ity of May­or Wilson Goode and the North­east’s long­time sup­port of Rizzo’s cam­paigns.

“People really loved him,” Tauben­ber­ger said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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