S.A. Paolantonio. Frank Rizzo: The Last Man in Big City America. Philadelphia, Pa.: Camino Books, 1993.
Rizzo served two terms as Philadelphia’s Mayor. He then lost two elections seeking to return as Mayor. Rizzo explained that he was willing to give up hosting a radio show that paid five times as much as being Mayor because “I have never seen a Brinks car in a funeral procession.” Yet when the author, as a Philadelphia Inquirer journalist, stated he was going to run for a fifth time in 1991 and the author reported this, Rizzo then denied saying that. Rizzo told the author he had to deny it “or they’ll throw me off the the air.” Rizzo also stated he did not want a correction run, stating of his potential opponents “Hell, no. We’ve got those bastards on the run!”
Rizzo was facing District Attorney Ron Castille in the 1991 Republican Primary. Rizzo tol a reporter that Castille drank too much and claimed Castille had mental issues. Castille admitted there were times he was drinking and had removed his gun. Rizzo, who had been trailing Castille by 24 points in one poll, used these issues, which Castille denied, against him to narrowly defeat him in the Republican Primary with Sam Katz coming in third.
Rizzo in 1976 sued the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pro-Rizzo union supporters blockaded the Inquirer for a day. Rizzo refused to send in police to help the Inquirer. The Inquirer could not gets that day’s newspaper distributed. It took Federal Marshals to break down the blockade.
Frank Rizzo joined the Navy in 1938. He developed diabetes insipidus which led to his discharge for medical reasons in 1939.
In 1940, the Rizzo family moved from South Philadelphia to the more affluent Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia. Rizzo, though, would often rely on his South Philadelphian connections for votes as there were more voters there.
Rizzo’s father was a police officer. Rizzo followed in his father’s footsteps and became one, too. The Republican Party controlled patronage then. Rizzo’‘s local Republican Committeeman, Ernest Lanzetta, and the ward leader Carl Myers, sponsored Rizzo being hired as a police officer.
Rizzo worked the same four area in Tioga in Northeast Philadelphia for seven years. He was known for constantly walking his beat unlike some officers who tried to hide indoors as much as they could. The police then did not have handcuffs. Rizzo’s nightstick and his large physique helped him in confronting criminals.
In 1944, Rizzo, while off duty, saw a small fire on a store awning and put it out with his bare hands. He suffered some burns. This led to Rizzo’s first mention in the press.
Rizzo boasted he was an honest police officer. He claim to have arrested a Republican political leader while patrolling in Swampoodle. The author believes this was a false boast as Rizzo never was on police patrol there.
In 1950, Mayor Bernard Samuel named Samuel Rosenberg as Public Safety Commissioner.The U.S. Senate and a grand jury investigated Philadelphia police corruption. Three police officers related to the investigations committed suicide. Rosenberg observed that Rizzo had made hundreds of arrests. Rosenberg promoted Rizzo to Acting Sergeant.
Rizzo began making arrests around town in areas where arrests were few. He even made arrests in his father’s beat, breaking into a brothel and numbers operation making arrests that were later dropped.
Rizzo, while making many arrests, did little to combat organized crime or the numbers rackets except for a few minor arrests. District Attorney Richardson Dilworth later suspected Rizzo arrested Jewish organized crime members but not Italian American organized crime members.
Rosenberg observed the Philadelphia Police Department had just 200 vehicles. Rosenberg required police officers to start using their own cars. Rosenberg also wanted “honest cops”, an image Rizzo attempted to create for himself.
A new city charter removed the office of Public Safety Commissioner. It also created more positions as being determined by Civil Service. Commissioner Rosenberg helped Rizzo when Rizzo passed the civil service for Police Sergeant. Rosenberg then destroyed the list of others who had passed the test. Rizzo then became in charge of the Motor Highway Patrol in South Philadelphia. In 1952, the head of the South Division Detectives, in part in thanks to Rizzo’s father, promoted Frank Rizzo to Acting Captain in West Philadelphia.
Rizzo physically busted his way into several clubs where African Americans were the members, including the Elks. His strong-arm tactics were criticized in the African American press and from several attorneys, such as Cecil Moore. Rizzon continue his raids. Moore, Lynwood Blout, and Harvey Schmidt helped create the Young Independent Political Action Committee which urged voters to withhold support for the Democrats then in power until the police raids abated. The raids continued.
In 1952, Rizzo transferred to the Center City district. Rizzo lead crackdowns on vice. Rizzo testified before a U.S. Senate Committee that the Philadelphia Police were doing their jobs.
Rizzo, to satisfy District Attorney Dilworth, arrested some Italian Americans involved in illegal numbers. Dilworth believes Rizzo meet with mob leaders and planned who would be arrested ahead of time.
Rizzo was upset that the Irish police officers and the Jewish police officers had their own organizations but not the Italian Americans. He was also insulted by the ethnic abuse he and other Italian Americans received from other officers. Rizzo helped form the Custodis Pacis open to any Italian American in law enforcement or fire fighting. He formed it with his brother Joseph, a firefighter, and Armand Della Porta, an Assistant District Attorney. Della Porta defeated Frank Rizzo in becoming the organization’s first President.
Rizzo did not like homosexuals. He raided bars and clubs frequented by gays,
A stripper Blaze Starr claimed Rizzo had sex with her after arresting her. Other officers report Rizzo wasn’t even there when she was arrested. Starr passed a lie detector test offered by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
As critics complained of Rizzo’s abuse of civil liberties, Rizzo became an issue. Both nominees for District Attorney, Democrat Victor Blanc and Republican Wilhelm Knauer, in 1955 supported Rizzo. Rizzom according to the author, had become “a political symbol. Removing him could have been disastrous” for a public figure.
Rizzo objected tot military police patroling Philadelphia streets. He told Navy officials that the sailors often were the cause of problems. Rizzo saw five Navy corpsmen throwing trash and insulting people from their car. Rizzo pursued them in a taxi, beat them up, and arrested them. The Navy Base Commander complained about Rizzo’s behavior and brought charges against Rizzo. Police Commissioner Tommy Gibbons later stated Rizzo “beat those sailors for no reason.” The charges were dismissed by a Magistrate Judge.
It was common street knowledge that Rizzo and mob boss Angelo Bruno in 1960 made an agreement tht neither would bother the other. The mob was relatively peaceful then. Rizzo did little in arresting organized crime members.
Cecil Moore was elected to lead the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP. Moore made the group more activist with pickets and demonstrations. Mayor James Tate had made Rizzo a Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of uniformed police. Rizzo Moore denounced Rizzo’s lack of education for not finishing high school as not being qualified. Moore also claimed Rizzo was overly aggressive in his police tactics. Moore used Rizzo, according to the author, “as a symbol for white oppression being practiced by the Democratic Party.”
A confrontation between a white police officer and two intoxicated African Americans witnessed by several escalated into a riot. Rizzo personally led 600 police officers, with Rizzo marching in front of them, to the area. Their presence did little as looting continued behind the police march. Rizzo was instructed not to use force. Rizzo was upset. The rioting continued until all the businesses along Columbus Avenue has been looted.
Moore later led a demonstration against the all-white Girard College. Rizzo again was in the forefront leading the police against the demonstrators.
Rizzo raided the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led nationally by Stokely Carmichael and had four members arrested for stolen dynamite The SNCC was involved in riots in Detroit and Newark yet its Philadelphia presence had been crushed by Rizzo and the police.
MayorJames Tate named Rizzo as Police Commissioner and gave him “a free hand” in running the Police Department. Rizzo switched his voter registration from Republican to Democrat.
Rizzo arrived wearing his helmet in news casts of any disturbance. As rioting eluded Philadelphia, Rizzo won popular support. A 1967 poll showed 84% of those polled approved of Rizzo while only 3% disapproved.
Tate ran for reelection. The polls had him losing to District Attorney Arlen Specter, who was running on “law and order”. Tate pledged to keep Rizzo as Police Commissioner. Specter would not make the same promise. This and an issue on parochial school funding let Tate gained in the polls and win reelection.
W.Wilson Goode and Hardy Williams were among the creators of the Black Political Forum. This group organized in hopes of preventing Rizzo from becoming Mayor.
In 1967, a group of protesters, many high school students, at the Philadelphia School Board were met by police. Rizzo is heard on tape commanding the officers to “get their Black asses.” Some protestors were beaten and arrested. Mayor Tate wanted to remove Rizzo. Ironically, Deputy Mayor Charles Bowser, the first African American Deputy Mayor, told Tate that phone calls were pouring in supporting the police. Tate decided not to remove Rizzo. Rizzo was unapologetic, proclaiming “the only thing these Black power leaders understand is force.”
Rizzo ran for Mayor. His campaign manager Al Gaudiosi, a former reporter, wrote for Rizzo right-wing speeches that made sweeping statements yet had few details, State Rep. Hardy Williams and U.S. Rep. Bill Green also ran. There were rumors that Rizzo supporters contributed to Williams’ campaign as he was drawing away votes from Green, who was Rizzo’s main rival. The Rizzo campaign finance records were destroyed before his can be confirmed or not.
Risso’s campaign headquarters were in Frank’s Collision Services which provided the space for free. Frank’s Collision Services received almost $40,000 in city contracts.
Rizzo won he primary. Rizzo ran on a law and order theme along with a pledge of no new taxes His Republican opponent, Thacher Longstreth, observed that Rizzo got 30% more press than Longstreth received. Rizzo had developed good relations with the press in getting them police stories. These good relationships continued when Rizzo was a candidate. Rizzo won the general election.
The Philadelphia Inquirer published a series of articles on police corruption while Rizzo was Commissioner. Rizzo responded by naming 214 officers who had been fired or suspended for accepting payoffs under his watch as Commisisoner.
Rizzo hired several reporters while he was Mayor. A problem with this for Rizzo was the new reporters did not have the same past relationships with Rizzo.
.Rizzo stopped giving city government legal contracts that had already paid $350,000 to Richardson Dilworth’s law firm. He then provided $185,000 of legal contract work to the law firm of City Council President George X. Schwartz.
Rizzo hired friends as top aides. None of them were African American or female.
Taylor Grant, a radio commentator critical of Rizzo, was taken off the air when Rizzo’s Finance Diretor Lennox Moak convinced Grant’s advertiser, the Philadelphia Gas Workers, to buy out Grant’s contract
Kent Pollock wrote about Philadelphia police corruption We followed by police officers and badly beaten. He believes it was police officers who beat him.
Greg Walter wrote an article on Rizzo and police corruption that Philadelphia Magazine was convinced to not publish.. The Philadelphia Bulletin then hired Walter. Walter was researching police corruption when he was arrested and the convicted of recording parties without their permission, The Bulletin dropped Walter. The Philadelphia Inquirer hired Walter. Water wrote how Richard Sprague, who had prosecuted Walter, stopped a homicide investigation as a favor to former State Police Commissioner Rocco Urella. Sprague sued the Inquirer in a case that last over two decades.
During Richard Nixon’s 1972 Presidential reelection campaign, Nixon ordered that either he, Campaign Manager John Mitchell, or White House Chief of Staff John Ehrlichman give at least weekly calls to Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, and Frank Rizzo. Rizzo advised Nixon not to attempt to get the minority vote as Nixon wouldn’t get it and he would lose supporters for trying to get it.
The Philadelphia Inquirer criticized that Rizzo could not afford a house being built for him on his Mayor’s $24,000 a year salary. Al Pearlman, a friendm was building the house. RIzzo declined to move into the house. Pearlman later built another house for Rizzo.
Democratic City Chairman Pete Camiel wanted to run F. Emmett Fitzpatrick for District Attorney. Rizzo wanted his Managing Director Hillel Levinson slated instead. Rizzo and Deputy Mayor Philip Carroll offered Camiel some contracts where he could pick architects for projects and jobs he had been giving to Council President Schwartz if Camiel would switch to Levinson. Camiel declined.
Rizzo had police surveillance conducted on Camiet. It was later disclosed that this political unit also spied on Richardson Dilworth, Arlen Spector, and John Cardinal Krol, among others.
Camiel went public with Rizzo’s bribe offer for Levinson. Rizzo and Carroll denied making the offer. The Philadelphia Daily News offered to give them lie detector tests. Rizzo accepted, stating he had “great confidence” in polygraphs and “if this machine says a man lied, he lied.” The tests showed Rizzo and Carroll lied and Camiel told the truth. Rizzo responded “I told white lies..sure I lied.”
Rizzo endorsed Republican Spector’s reelection for District Attorney over Fitzpatrick Spector’s grand jury on Rizzo’s political police spy squad criticized Rizzo for “un-ponderable violations of process” yet it recommended only that police units not be used for personal or political use No indictments resulted.
Fitzpatrick was elected.
In 1974, the Pennsylvania Crime Commission released a report on the Philadelphia Police. It claimed “police corruption in Philadelphia is ongoing, widespread, systematic, and occurring at all levels of the Police Department...ranging in rank from Policeman to Inspector.” Police Commissioner Joseph O’Neill had fought cooperating with the Commission. The state Supreme Court ordered the Police Department to provide information. Four state troopers working on the investigation were beaten by Philadelphia police officers with one chained to a chair for several hours.
A Special Prosecutor, Walter Phillips, Jr., was named. City Solicitor Shaldon Albert had the court prohibit expanding Phillips’s investigation into municipal corruption, Rizzo’s state legislative allies, Sen. Buddy Cianfrani, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, and Rep. Stephen Wojdak, House Appropriations Committee Chairman, kept funds to the investigation minimized. Phillips had 11 investigators, one tenth the number a similar probe in New York City had.
The Rizzo Administration announced 280 menial labor jobs would be available at $6,400 a year on a first come, first serve basis. Thousands of mostly African Americans stood for hours in the rain and cold only to learn the jobs had been already been awarded by those politically connected to Rizzo.
Rizzo faced State Sen. Louis Hill, Richardson Dilworth’s son-in-law, in the 1975 Democratic Primary for Mayor. Rizzo raised almost $1million, mostly from large business interests Nicholas Caramandi, an organized crime member who later turned informant, would later state that the Philadelphia ob donated large amounts of cash to Al Pearlman who used it for Rizzo’s election day operations. Many city employees worked for Rizzo on election day.
Rizzo with 53% defeated Hill with 43%. Most of Rizzo’s slate, including Al Pearlman for City Council, won.
Phillips indicted Managing Director Hillel Levinson for accepting illegal political contributions for many of the same architectural contracts which Rizzo had offered to Camiel. Levionson argued every city handled architectural contracts in that manner. Levinson argued Phillips made the indictments as a ploy to help Lou Hill win the primary.
Philadelphia Inquirer Laura Foreman wrote favorable articles of Rizzo and Cianfrani even while its editorials supported the Phillips investigation and urged Cianfrani to keep it funded. Former Mayor Joseph Clark accused Foreman and Cianfrani of having an affair. Foreman kept writing articles that helped Rizzo’s campaign strategies.
A month after the primary, Cianfrani ended all funding for Phillips’s office. Phillips had made nine convictions yet only five were on major crimes. Eleven pled guilty to minor crimes.
Sam Dash researched the Phillips Commission. Dash criticized that Phillips had a budget of $500,000 which was a third of what Dash believed was necessary. Dash also criticized Phillips for politicizing his investigation for trying to expand it beyond police corruption into official corruption.
Rizzo moved into a prestigious renovated home in Chestnut Hill. He ignored press inquiries into how he could afford it.
Rizzo faced Republican Tom Foglietta and Philadelphia Party candidate Charles Bowser (who would finish second) in the general election. Bowser claimed the city government was $65 million in debt. Rizzo won the election. Two weeks after Rizzo’s inauguration, Lennox Moak announced the city was $80 million in debt. Emerging legisation was needed from the state to raise taxes.
Rizzo called for a 29.3% increase in the real estate tax and increasing the wage tax from 3.3% to 4.3%.
There were public outcries over the tax increases. The Philadelphia Party, Americans for Democratic Action, and other activists began a petition to recall Rizzo as Mayor. The public was also upset over the police inaction on demonstrators who blocked distribution of the Philadelphia Inquirer. When Shelley Yanoff saw the blockage, she was angered and became the leader of the recall. A poll found 57% favored removing Rizzo as Mayor.
Rizzo’s allies took control of the Philadelphia Democratic Committee. They ousted Pete Camiel and made Martin Weinberg the new Chairman.
Rizzo asked for 15,000 Federal troops to protect Philadelphia on the July 4, 1976 Bicentennial. RIzzo feared disruptions. The U.S. Justice Department denied Rizzo this request No disruptions occurred. Attendance was less than expected, in part driven away from some of the fears Rizzo raised.
Federal investigators leaned Laura Foeman indeed was Cianfrani’s girlfriend and that she had received over $10,000 in gifts from Cianfrani. Cianfrani was later found guilty of hiring ghost employees.
Rizzo sought to have the City Charter changed so he could run for a third term. This was not approved.
African Americans began registered to vote in large part in anger against Rizzo. After this voter registration drive, the percent of registered voters in Philadelphia who were African American increased from 32% to 38%.
Rizzo ran for Mayor as in the Democrat Primary in 1983, having been unable to run for a third term in 1979, He unsuccessfully tried to repackage himself, according to the author. Wilson Goode won the primary with 53% to Rizzo’s 43%.
Rizzo ran for Mayor in 1987 as a Republican. Goode won again with 51% to 49% for Rizzo.
Rizzo ran for the Republican nomination for Mayor in 1991, Rizzo defeated Castillo in that primary by 1,429 votes out of 300,000 cast. Rizzo died of a massive heart attack before the general election.