The Year of the Bull, Part 2
This is part two of "The Year of the Bull." Read part one here.
Tony Zecca must have recognized this built-in problem when he called Frank Rizzo a "master at psychological strategy."
"There are times when his voice drops very low," Tony Zecca explained. "There are times when he sounds very humble. And there are times when he sounds like the fabled Frank Rizzo. The man lives up to his reputation because he makes it a point to."
Well, if Frank Rizzo has one reputation that seems unshakable, it’s being the fastest hip-shooter since Wyatt Earp.
The Rizzo fans love it. Rizzo doesn’t pussyfoot around. He sizes up the whole situation, then cuts loose, fast and straight. His critics see it another way. They’re afraid he’s going to pop something off the top of his head one of these days and plunge us all into a catastrophe.
"Rizzo does that," Lenora Berson told me. "He says anything that comes into his head. And he has a very good instinct for what will give him, at that moment, a good advantage. Most good charismatic politicians have that quality of never looking ahead, of being able to read their audience, and the temper of their followers, and saying whatever it is that will please them."
Frank Rizzo the hipshooter.
I had been reading Frank Rizzo that way. The first time I tried to professionally read a Rizzo "hipshot" was when I was working on an Arlen Specter piece a few months back. I must have listened a dozen times to a tape of the press conference that resulted in all the Rizzo-for-Governor speculation that sent shivers up Specter’s back. I finally concluded that Rizzo was baited by a couple of newsmen, namely Brian Feldman, then of the Bulletin, and Steve Ross of WIP, into saying something that was construed to mean he was considering a try at the governorship in ’74, bucking his pal Specter.
Then I met Steve Ross at WIP’s Christmas party and we kicked it around. "I thought we baited him," Steve Ross said. "Then I realized he baited us. He was waiting for the right time to drop that bombshell and he suckered us in."
There’s considerable sentiment in the press corps these days that Rizzo might have even prodded Feldman to start the ball rolling, since it wasn’t long afterwards that Rizzo hired Feldman away from the Bulletin and named him the City’s transportation coordinator.
Steve Ross told me that he’s beginning to believe that Frank Rizzo never shoots from the hip, that he just has an uncanny way of making it look that way for effect. Ross, who is not one of the mayor’s favorite newsmen because he puts the mayor under the gun with rough questions, has developed a healthy respect for Frank Rizzo’s natural cunning.
"There’s no greater fallacy than all this about him shooting from the hip," says Tony Zecca. "He knows beforehand what he wants to say. It sounds spontaneous, but Frank Rizzo doesn’t move in any spontaneous way, nothing completely spur-of-the-moment.
"The Gas Works thing. That was painted to look like a hipshot." Zecca was referring to the newspaper coverage of Rizzo’s decision to drop the United Gas Improvement Corporation as the management firm to run the municipally owned Philadelphia Gas Works. During a press conference, someone mentioned that it was the Mayor’s prerogative to hire and fire the management firm. Frank Rizzo pondered for a second, and said: "That’s a good idea. Fire ’em." Just like that.
"But he didn’t say at the time that we had been looking into it for months. Plus DGI had a year’s cancellation notice and he was well aware of it," Zecca explained. "But this is part of his own flair for the dramatic. Sometimes his voice will go up and they’ll say Rizzo’s angry. If he figures something should sound angry, it goes that way."
Frank Rizzo from the hip. Frank Rizzo does not shoot from the hip. Frank Rizzo only makes you think he shoots from the hip. Everywhere there’s another image, generally contradicting an earlier image.
By now I had images coming out of my ears. Good images. Bad images. Images that reinforced one another. Images that collided. I was beginning to believe that 1972 was just a hallucination, nothing more than a constant discharge of high-powered emotion with no substance. The whole year seemed to happen in headlines and people’s minds. Ten million words about change. Change for the better. Change for the worse. Yet everything was the same. Or exactly the opposite of what was expected.
Actually, the contradictions started before Frank Rizzo even took office.
For instance, he promised to fill his cabinet with the finest talent and expertise available. He even offered to let the Mayor’s Committee of Twelve, his advisory council, pick the candidates for the top jobs. Then before anyone even realized it, it was Inauguration Day in Philadelphia and Frank Rizzo announced the most lackluster cabinet that anyone could remember. With the exception of the highly regarded Lennox Moak, the rest were practically unknown. And laughable, if it weren’t so serious.
A lot of people knew Manny Weinberg, the former city councilman and one of the toughest street politicians to come up through the ranks. But who knew his kid, Marty? Some thought he might have been an assistant district attorney for a while, along with a couple hundred other guys. He was. Then he threw a way the public life, as brief and obscure as it was, for the more obscure world of academia. He taught law at Drexel University until one day, early in the mayoralty campaign, he called Frank Rizzo and asked if he could come aboard. He did and when the Rizzo For Mayor ship docked, Marty Weinberg walked down the gangplank as the new city solicitor.
And Marty Weinberg had this friend, another young lawyer named Hillel Levinson. He wanted to help out, too. Frank Rizzo said he appreciated all the help he could get. And Levinson wound up the new managing director, head of the city’s ten service departments.
When Al Gaudiosi, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Bulletin who left his job to run Rizzo’s campaign, turned down a chance to be deputy mayor because he didn’t want to move back to Philadelphia, Rizzo dipped back into the Police Department and plucked out Phil Carroll, a career civil service administrative expert and the civilian who helped Rizzo run the 8,000-man force while he was commissioner.
The critics howled when they heard the lineup. But the funny thing is, exept for failing to deliver any miracles, the nobodies have been doing a job.
Harry Belinger, the new city representative and director of commerce, is a case by himself. A lot of influential people in town said the ex-city editor was probably Rizzo’s worst appointment. The street-hardened Irishman from Kensington looked a little like an ex-pug, spoke in a voice that sounded like it belonged to a bookie whispering into a telephone, and dressed like every Hollywood stereotype of a newspaper man.
Almost immediately, Belinger bought a new wardrobe, or took one nobody knew he had out of mothballs; hired a smooth-talking, dapper television newsman named Don Angel to handle most of the handshaking and speechmaking, and then settled down to devote most of his time to working impossibly long hours on the most important aspect of his job, dealing with the business community and its mind-boggling problems.
And before the year was out, Thacher Longstreth, Frank Rizzo’s opponent and once again chairman of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, was calling Harry Belinger one of the best men ever to fill the position.
Frank Rizzo also promised, and it was printed in the papers like an I.O.U., to give his administration balance, to make it truly representative of the ethnic and racial makeup of the city. Then he went and practically turned the Mayor’s Office into the Sons of Italy headquarters. Rizzo. Zecca. John Taglionetti. Mike Wallace. And don’t let that last one fool you. Mike Wallace, the handsome young lawyer from the Northeast, now the mayor’s liason with City Council, may not be quite a full-blood, but he’s Italian ail the way. It’s a wonder that Phil Carroll and Peter Rothberg, the other two deputy mayors, don’t feel a little out of place.
Right from the start, Frank Rizzo proclaimed that Philadelphia had its first non-political mayor ever. Then, in just one year, he made more political maneuvers than a dozen South American army generals could plot in their combined lifetimes. He promised to leave the Democratic City Committee in the capable hands of Pete Camiel. And almost before the ink was dried on the newsprint, the word was out that Frank Rizzo was building a coalition of ward leaders to take control of Camiel’s organization before the liberal wing of the party or anybody else could beat him to it.
During the campaign months, Frank Rizzo promised over and over that, if elected, he would make the streets safe for decent citizens. Then you picked up the morning paper recently only to find that the crime rate is growing as fast as ever. What does it mean’? Frank Rizzo has an effect on the crime rate? Frank Rizzo had a better effect on the crime rate when he was police commissioner? Hell, he’s still The General. He gave the title to a capable and spotless guy like Joe O’Neill. But he still keeps his fingers in every major decision regarding the Police Department, which could explain the stories that O’Neill has threatened to quit a couple of times.
From the moment he announced his candidacy, the liberals and a good many blacks swore that Frank Rizzo would accelerate racial polarization to the point of open warfare in the streets. The number of murders has gone up since Rizzo became mayor. But it’s still basically blacks killing blacks and whites killing whites. And for the same old reasons. Only occasionally is there a headline about a black picking off a cop. Or vice versa.
And speaking of blacks killing blacks, Frank Rizzo promised to do something drastic to cut down on the gang warfare that has kept Philadelphia Number One on the national scoreboard for years. He did. He called a truce for a week so the kids could turn in their hardware without risking a bust for illegal possession. A few did, and there were all kind of encouraging pictures in the newspapers and on the 11 o’clock news. After that, nothing happened except more killings and a year of outraged columns written by outraged black columnists. Finally, Frank Rizzo created an office for juvenile affairs and named a soft-spoken but respected black fireman and boxing referee named Zach Clayton to head the outfit. Now it’s wait and see.
A quick review of the political headlines of 1972 makes the strangest year ever look like a second-rate slapstick comedy or, at times, a ludicrous espionage potboiler.
All year, Frank Rizzo was still saying, louder than ever, that he represented the little man, the guy in the row house. Frank Rizzo was always one himself. Then he decided the kitchen in his modest Mount Airy home was too small and let some friends build him a castle befitting an earl, or maybe even a duke.
That’s when arithmetic became as controversial a subject as a citizens’ police advisory board. The mayor said his new homestead was going to run him about $100,000. The newspaper watchdogs got a couple of builders to do some quick pencil work and the stories charged that no one else in all the kingdom could throw up a palace like that for less than $400,000.
When he first heard the news, Frank Rizzo beamed. "Say, I got me one hell of a bargain, didn’t I?" he commented to the reporters who asked what gave. But when he kept hearing it, over and over again, Frank Rizzo began a slow boil. Why was everyone making such a fuss? When some of the critics began to suggest that a mayor allowing contractors to build his house at such cut-rate prices was, at best, unethica1, Frank Rizzo grew livid. How could anyone doubt his integrity?
Meanwhile, Jim Tate sat in his little row home on North Seventh Street and laughed like hell. It was the best laugh Jim Tate got all year, watching Frank Rizzo squirm a little as the griddle grew hotter.
A year earlier, Frank Rizzo started his term calling Jim Tate the greatest mayor ever. And Jim Tate was still saying that Frank Rizzo was the greatest police commissioner ever.
Before the year was up, newspaper readers and television watchers were getting a little tired of Frank Rizzo calling Jim Tate a lousy mayor. And Jim Tate calling Frank Rizzo a traitor, a bully and a Gestapo chief.
The smoldering Rizzo-Tate feud broke out into a full-scale fire-fight when George McGovern was the Democratic Presidential nomination last summer.
Frank Rizzo was still insisting he wasn’t a politician. But it was really a matter of definition. He’s not a politician in the traditional sense of the word. Traditional politicians generally remember their party affiliation, even if they have to glance down at those funny little animal pins they wear in their lapels to refresh their memories.
Not Frank Rizzo. He was elected a Democrat, which a lot of people didn’t really believe in the first place, and he often says he feels much obliged to the party for letting it happen. But his conscience couldn’t let him just stand by and watch George McGovern get the chance to ruin the Greatest Nation on Earth.
And since Dick Nixon was a shoo-in to keep control of the money-machine in Washington for another four years, Frank Rizzo must have figured that it would at least be good fiscal policy to keep on friendly terms with the man for one more spin around. After all, his pal in the White House did toss Philadelphia some extra bucks last year, even if he did let any hopes of real financial rebirth die by allowing a full-fledged Bicentennial to get yanked out from under Frank Rizzo’s feet.
But Nixon did put a little balm on the wound recently by giving Rizzo $100 million for a greatly-reduced local celebration.
The way that Frank Rizzo utilized press conferences and headlines to create victory from defeat during the whole Bicentennial circus is a tribute to the man’s mastery of the use of the media and the spoken word. Rizzo’s wizardry still has John Bunting reeling.
John Bunting, head of First Pennsylvania, is perhaps the most powerful and influential banker in Philadelphia. Sometimes he’s a Rizzo supporter, sometimes he’s a critic. Throughout the whole Bicentennial controversy, Bunting, chairman of the Bicen Corporation, became more and more of a critic, yet at the same time developed more and more respect for Frank Rizzo’s diplomatic skills.
"Intuitively, he’s smart as hell," Bunting says. "His strength is his ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Bicentennial is the perfect example."
Even before Rizzo took office, the idea of an international exposition in Philadelphia in 1976 was on very shaky ground. By then, the prospective location for the main celebration had been changed more times than a gypsy camp site.
Early last year, it became evident to people on the Bicentennial planning board that Washington wasn’t about to stand for many more changes. The jamboree had been pushed out of Byberry by public and political resistance and had been dumped into the Bridesburg section of the city. The resistance there was close to revolution. And it was largely racial in overtone.
Basically, planners of the Bicentennial decided that the exposition should be more lasting and more significant than a year of sightseeing and merry-making. They figured that the permanent buildings on the site, coupled with some low-cost housing developments, could ease the plight of poverty-level families across the city. That, of course, meant blacks. And the people in Bridesburg, a predominantly white area, weren’t buying it. Not in their neighborhood.
To make matters worse, Sam Evans, the black executive director of the Bicentennial Corporation, was coming right out and calling the opposition racist and bigoted.
Frank Rizzo knew he had a very ticklish situation on his hands. So he demanded that Evans be fired for inflaming the already tense situation. John Bunting said no, that the hiring and firing was his responsibility and he was standing by Evans. This, naturally, didn’t leave the mayor with I very positive feelings toward Bunting.
However, Rizzo and Bunting met to discuss the decision over lunch one day in the banker’s office. Bunting wasn’t very optimistic about an amiable settlement.
"I said I was going to resign because I knew it was going to lead to a tremendous battle between the mayor and me," he recalls, "and I didn’t want the job if the mayor didn’t want me. Then he did the most incredible thing.
"He told me that if I stayed on, he’d accept Sam Evans. Then he went out and told the press that he got a compromise out of Bunting. First of all, he didn’t even know I was going to quit. But he told the press that if I would stay, he would accept Sam Evans.
"He won that thing. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful way to accommodate himself to another source of power because he kept face completely. He permitted me to retain face. And even Sam Evans. He was a statesman. People saw this. I got a call from Rolfe Neill [Daily News editor] atIo’clock in the morning. Rolfe Neill said that it was the most amazing thing he ever saw. How did it happen? I told him. And he said the guy is really more diplomatic than he ever gave him credit for. Rizzo raised himself in a lot of people’s estimation." Bunting stayed as well as Evans — until the whole thing collapsed.
John Bunting has been on the inside enough to see a side of Frank Rizzo that few ever get a glimpse at. Maybe it’s because Rizzo doesn’t want to expose that side of himself. Maybe it’s because the press doesn’t want to portray him that way and spoil their stereotype image. Or maybe it’s a combination of both.
"The worst thing is the suggestion that this is a fascist state, that one man is running everything," Bunting says. "This just isn’t true. Rizzo has accommodated his point of view a number of times. The public doesn’t know this. He’d be healthier if the public did know it."
But police state charges die hard.
Just before the year ended, Frank Rizzo made more splashy headlines by calling Jim Tate, one of the loyal Democrats, a pirate captain who had allowed his crew to plunder the city for ten years.
Jim Tate answered in headlines the next day that Frank Rizzo was a Big Brother who tapped people’s telephones, especially his. Jim Tate was very indignant about this kind of invasion of privacy, even though he never proved it. He said it was the kind of thing that could lead to a police state.
Apparently Jim Tate never heard the stories that it was he who had ordered Frank Rizzo and the police department to dig into the closets of all his enemies and potential enemies and compile dossiers on them while he was mayor.
Some people didn’t forget the stories. In fact, there’s still a lot of curiosity . circulating around town concerning the dossiers. The new question is whether Jim Tate bequeathed the originals to Frank Rizzo before the big split, or just let Frank Rizzo make do with the copies he had made for himself.
Throughout the year, Richardson Dilworth, another very active member of the ex-mayors’ club, called Frank Rizzo everything but a homosexual. Even Dilworth figured that would be stretching things too far. But he did call Rizzo a bigot any number of times, especially in the column he writes for the Daily News. In writing that column, Dilworth often dips into history to make a point. But he has yet to dip back to when he was mayor and he called the people in South Philadelphia a bunch of greasers.
Early this year, Frank Rizzo got even. He called Dilworth "Martini Dick" in print. One for Frank Rizzo and South Philly.
Dilworth, of course, has a lot of reasons to be sore at Rizzo, aside from their basic political and ideological differences. Rizzo didn’t waste much time when he became mayor in knocking Dilworth’s law firm out of a fat legal contract with the Philadelphia Gas Works.
The controversies, charges and counter-charges, and the headline name-calling kept on coming as the old year closed and the new one began.
In late December, Frank Rizzo charged that certain favored architects had been sucking the city dry for years by charging inflated prices on contracts like the one Vincent Kling had been awarded for designing a new airport facility. Rizzo really laid into Kling, but he didn’t stop at the architect. He claimed that practically everyone who wangled a City contract since the Phillies won their last pennant had ripped off the taxpayers. That’s why the City is faced with such a financial nightmare. To get to the bottom of it all, he called on City Council to investigate every city contract and municipal corruption in general.
Then Herb Lipson went and called the whole idea as preposterous as asking a fox to guard the henhouse. He said it in the January issue of Philadelphia Magazine, which also carried a rather uncomplimentary story about George X. Schwartz, the City Council president, and zoning games.
And then George X. Schwartz called Herb Lipson a lecher and a wife stealer.
And Frank Rizzo chuckled and said he was glad they were fighting with each other and not picking on him.
And two million people in Philadelphia gobbled lip every word of it.
And I decided everyone in Philadelphia is crazy.
After all, any city that blows the Bicentennial, still pays good money to watch four of the worst teams in the history of organized sports, and takes Frank Rizzo and George X. Schwartz and Herb Lipson seriously, has to be a sanctuary for psychopaths.
With all this madness swimming in my head, by the time Tony Zecca led me into the throne room to interview the boss, I just wanted to chuck the whole story and ask Frank Rizzo for a job. Then I thought about Herb Lipson and Pat O’Brien saying about winning one more for the Gipper, and I decided to go through with it.
"How’ve you been, Jimmy?" Frank Rizzo asked as he stood up and extended his beefy hand.
After the greetings, I sat in one of the chairs in the semi-circle in front of his desk. Tony Zecca sat in one against the wall.
"That’s all right, Tony," Frank Rizzo said. "You don’t have to stick around. Jimmy’s our friend."
Zecca, who stands about 5’6" and looks about half the size of Frank Rizzo, nodded to the boss and quietly left us alone.
"Tony likes to protect me," Frank Rizzo laughed. "Some of these news guys that come to interview me are murder. They wanna kill you. I almost had to throw a guy out the other day. Some guy from outta town."
Once we settled into the interview, I tried to think of the strongest criticism I had been hearing about Frank Rizzo and his first year as mayor of Philadelphia. There was one charge that I had been hearing over and over. While Rizzo had been credited with doing a few nice little things, like painting red cars blue, putting some cops on those nice horses and plugging up potholes, critics say he hasn’t come up with any far-reaching innovative programs to turn Philadelphia around. No programs.
Frank Rizzo must have heard that charge a couple of thousand times since he took office a little more than a year ago. You get the feeling it really gets under his skin. But he remained calm as he started answering the charge.
"We’re working on our long-range programs right now," he said slowly. "What our goals are going to be for the next couple of years. But you have to remember that this City was so mismanaged that for many months we had no procedures at all, no fixed way of doing anything. Everything was run so slipshod and we had to put our administrative operation in good shape.
"Just one example. Take City-owned land. We don’t know vet what land we own. There’s nothing on file. It should have been on computer. Take City-owned vehicles. Nobody knows what cars we own. We have to go to each department and send people in to find what equipment we own. This takes a lot of time."
Still, Frank Rizzo claimed, with all the time-consuming housekeeping chores that had to be taken care of during his first-year, there were still a lot of accomplishments, tangible and intangible. He talked about the vastly improved relations with the business community, people’s renewed confidence in City Hall, reduction of the inherited General Fund deficit by $18 million, the removal of 21,000 abandoned autos from the city’s streets.
Then he picked up his desk phone and told Tony Zecca to bring in a list of the first-year accomplishments. A few moments later, Zecca handed him the list and sat down on one of the chairs in the semi-circle. As Frank Rizzo read down the list, I couldn’t help but feel that it all sounded great, but what did it mean, if anything? There hasn’t been an appreciable change for the better since Frank Rizzo took over. Life is still pretty much the same in Philadelphia. And for far too many people, that means not a very good Life.
"Sure, I wish I had all the money we need," Frank Rizzo said, "so I could wave a magic wand and say all of the housing in this city is fit for human habitation. I would like to have enough money for our schools, so we can educate our kids and have I less trouble when they grow up to be adults. I would like to say there are no hungry people in this city. I see kids walking in the rain with no wet weather gear. The money’s just not there. And we can’t afford to raise taxes anymore."
Frank Rizzo pounded away at what’s become the main theme of his administration. No tax increases. "We lost the taxpayers to the suburbs," he lamented, "and in return, we got a group of poor people who just can’t contribute to the tax structure. It’s not their fault. And we have to take care of them. We have to restore the dignity back to those people. Jobs. Give a man a job and you give him back his dignity. This is all a guy wants. I don’t care who he is."
Without his ever mentioning it directly, you know that Frank Rizzo is talking about blacks — that half of the city they say he has little or no compassion for. I remembered what a black newsman had told me. "You just can’t say he’s a complete racist," the guy said. "I don’t think a racist would put his life every day in the hands of three black bodyguards. He has a sensitivity for blacks. On a one-to-one basis. But he can’t relate to blacks as a group."
That was something that Frank Rizzo’s campaign managers must have been very aware of in 1971, the way they successfully kept him out of virtually every black neighborhood in the city.
"But let me tell you about the black vote," Frank Rizzo said, without my asking out loud. "There were 150,000 blacks who voted. Frank Rizzo got 51,000 black votes. With all they threw at me. This is one area that I hold against Thacher. He used the black-white issue in the election, which I’d have never done."
A lot of people don’t buy that at all. They figured he used the black-white issue to the fullest, namely by ignoring the black community completely during his campaign and by his "firm but fair" promise which some took to be a not so subtle warning that he was going to keep the niggers in line.
"They accused me of dividing this city," he continued. "Every day they hit me with another so-called black leader. Shapp and Creamer hit me with that brutality charge that happened seven years before. But with all that, I received 51,000 black votes. If I was running today, I’d get a lot more black votes."
That brought up another interesting point as to Frank Rizzo’s relationship with various Philadelphia communities. Will he be able to keep the Jewish vote in the Northeast? After all, the outcome of the mayoralty election can be plotted out on a demographic map of the city. As expected, the Italian, Irish and Polish working-class neighborhoods in South Philadelphia, Kensington, Frankford and Torresdale went for Rizzo. The black wards in North and West Philadelphia went against him. The pivotal vote that put him over came out of the heavily Jewish middle-class neighborhoods in the Northeast.
It’s a plausible theory that the school crisis could cost Frank Rizzo that crucial support. It’s a fact that the rest of Rizzo’s constituency uses the parochial school system and are tickled pink by his stance not to raise their taxes in order to bail out the financially mismanaged public school system. But the Jews in the Northeast still use public schools and they’re madder than hell when those schools are closed.
Rizzo knows that the school situation, the trauma of two major teachers’ strikes within a little more than a year since he took office, is a political time bomb that can go off either way. But, to listen to people in the administration like Lennox Moak, Rizzo is more concerned about the long-range effects that any solution will have on the city. That’s right, the long-range effects.
Moak had told me that he firmly believes that a tax increase may offer an immediate solution to the problem, but would be deadly for the City, in the long run. And Moak does not mean simply because Philadelphia would then be burdened forever with a new or increased tax. He contended that any local tax remedy to the problem will cost the City in other revenues for years to come.
By balancing the school budget with local taxes, Moak feels the city may be depriving itself of revenue aid from either the state or Federal government. Especially when the new state legislature readjusts its formula for aid to local school districts across the state later this year.
Herb Fineman, the Democrat House leader from Philadelphia, claims the city can’t get any more state aid unless it increases its own taxes. But Moak says there’s nothing on the books that says that’s so. He feels it’s simply Fineman’s political assessment of the situation.
Quite simply, Lennox Moak and Frank Rizzo just don’t want to see Philadelphia get shortchanged later this year when the Legislature recalculates its public school appropriations and then have to suffer the loss for the next two years that follow. It’s a gamble and one they feel we have to take. In the end, Frank Rizzo really feels his refusal to raise taxes isn’t going to hurt him among the voters in any part of the city.
"Take the city of Detroit," he explained. "Their schools are going to close the first of May. They put it on referendum twice to increase taxes and it was defeated. Washington, D.C., tried to increase taxes. It was defeated on referendum. People are fed up with taxes."
The super-charged Frank Rizzo was beginning to roll by now. The calmness disappeared when he started to talk about taxes.
"I consider myself the lawyer for the working guy," he said. "Take a look at your paycheck. I look at mine, what they take out of it. They ruin you. This is what’s got to stop. It’s easy to run a government or business if you have all the money you need. You can give it away. But few profit by that kind of City administration.
"Take a look at the housing in this city, the redevelopment. Fifty million a year [of federal money] came into this city in housing funds. Show me one house we can be proud of. Take redevelopment. We got thousands of cases. To rehabilitate a house at 17th and Norris, it cost us $40,000. Forty-thousand dollars! You can buy seven blocks up there for $40! It all went. It never got to the poor. Millions of dollars. If this government had been run efficiently, we would’ve had enough money to give it to the suburbs.
"You can never cure all the ills," Frank Rizzo said, a trace of frustration or maybe disgust crossing his face. "There’s no group of men who can do it, because the decay that’s setting into the cities has been happening for the past 25 or 30 years. You can’t change it overnight. But let me tell you this, whoever follows me is going to have it a lot easier and a lot better than when I came here."
At this point, Frank Rizzo picked up the phone again and told someone on the other end: "Tell Phil, Peter and Johnny to come in here with all the stuff on the programs, the ones we have and the ones we’re working on."
He was referring. obviously, to three of his deputy mayors, Phil Carroll, John Taglionetti and Peter Rothberg. I had been somewhat familiar with Carroll and Taglionetti before I started on the story. That is, I had heard a good deal about them. But I had never even known there was a Peter Rothberg until I was talking about the mayor with an old friend who had been a reporter until he accepted a City position. "The two most important guys behind the scene who keep the machinery running are Phil Carroll and Peter Rothberg," the guy had told me. I said I had never heard of Rothberg. "That’s how much behind-the-scenes the guy is," my friend laughed.
Within moments, the three filed into the room. The tall, lanky, sharp-featured Carroll. Taglionetti, shorter, stockier, with closely trimmed, dark, wavy hair, had been a television newsman before throwing in with Rizzo. Only Rothberg looked really out of place with Frank Rizzo. A thin-faced, slightly built guy in his late 20s, Peter Rothberg wore his dark, toussled hair pretty long and he smoked a pipe. Actually, he looks more like a young, radical professor from Berkeley than the kind of guy you figured Frank Rizzo would keep by his side. But there he was.
I spoke privately with Rothberg later, to find out that he has a master’s degree in public administration, worked in the Tate administration as a development coordinator in the Model Cities program and as a research assistant in the Mayor’s Office, still clings to a liberal viewpoint in most matters, and thinks that Frank Rizzo is a damned good mayor because he refuses to allow the entrenched, self-perpetuating City Hall bureaucracy to force him to stop trying to get things done. Rothberg also said things that dispelled the stories that frank Rizzo runs a one-man show all the time and refuses even to listen to anything that runs counter to his own rigid attitudes.
"I know I often give him opinions that seem to run against what he originally thought about a situation," Rothberg said. "Sometimes he changes his mind. He has a very quick, receptive mind. Sometimes he doesn’t change his mind. Sometimes he says I’m nuts. But he hasn’t fired me yet."
After the cordial but brief acknowledgments and handshakes, John Taglionetti began explaining some of the City’s job programs that started early in 1972. Most of them are federally funded. During the first year, the City spent roughly $42 million on programs that continually employed some 2,000 people on work projects in the streets department. He said the total number of people involved was actually much higher due to the turnover rate. Then he went into the neighborhood youth corps program that gave jobs to about 3,000 street kids last summer.
In a few moments, John Taglionetti had to leave for a late day meeting. As he walked out the door, Frank Rizzo started to grin and turned to Carroll and Zecca.
"There’s a story right there," he chuckled. "It’s amazing. I think I told you guys. Johnny was on that Haight-Ashbury Street. A fucking hippie! The long hair. Boy, he turned. He was on that bit for a couple of years. Nice kid. It’s funny. He looks like that guy, Sidney Greenstreet."
That was the signal. Rizzo has this way of breaking tensions during serious discussions by making left field comments or playing the buffoon. It thins the air. I got the feeling that it was going to be a lot more down to earth from this point on. The boss had just set the pace.
But Phil Carroll was still reserved. He started slowly, weighing everything he said.
"We’re trying to get a housing program going that won’t be dependent upon federal funds and the federal bureaucracy," he said.
"Hey, we’re not rapping it," Frank Rizzo shot in. "We’re grateful for everything we get. But we’ve got to get it to the point where we don’t have to depend on other people to improve our housing system.
"This is what [HEW Secretary George] Romney said," Carroll continued. "We’re trying to get private enterprise to do conventional development, financing and so forth, with the City helping the private sector in the areas where they need help. The key to the thing is financing.
"We have all kinds of builders who come in and say they want to build houses if we can find them the ground," he added. "We haven’t been able to do it. But now we’re getting the sites together."
Frank Rizzo shook his head. Something that Carroll said hit a nerve.
"When we took office, believe me there was nothing available," Rizzo commented. "There are no records. You ask me what ground we own. It wasn’t catalogued. But we’re putting it together.
Phil Carroll picked up the line from there. "The important part about having the ground for them, Mayor" he started. "You go down to the Callowhill East area and all you see is acres and acres of ground that’s been sitting there empty for five or six years. They can’t do anything with it, the reason being that it’s redevelopment ground and it’s subject to federal rules and guidelines on the resale, and it’s priced out of reach. Nobody can afford it. It’s $100,000 an acre.
"So, on one hand, we have a surplus of ground we can’t use. And on the other hand, we don’t have the ground that’s available to the private sector to come in, without going through the federaitangles. It’s overpriced because of the federal rules."
"Well, tell him why it’s overpriced, Philip," Frank Rizzo said. "Show him."
With that, Carroll excused himself and walked out of the office. Rizzo continued the talking. "When I was first promoted to captain I was sent to center city. The area of Callowhill that we’re talking about was one of the most thriving business sections in this city. The tax ratables were there.
"But what happened was," he continued, "they cleared acres and acres of ground and a lot of it was for political reasons, favoritism. Certain people made a lot of money. It shouldn’t have been redeveloped in the first place. They made a killing. Now you got an empty lot there and they moved to another state."
"They sold them at inflated prices," said Phil Carroll, who just walked into the room carrying a huge chart which he set up on a couple of chairs. The chart told an amazing story. Five firms were moved from two buildings around Seventh and Arch. The Redevelopment Authority assessed the damage compensation to cover the cost of moving and the resulting loss of business during the transaction. The figures were then approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds such operations.
But then, each of the firms hired a lawyer, always the same lawyer, Lewis Kates, a former assistant city solicitor in the Dilworth administration. Kates subsequently filed substantially higher claim for his clients. In all the cases, the Redevelopment Authority offered little or no resistance to the new claims. In just five cases cited on the chart, the total damage claims started out at $166,000 and wound up well over a million dollars.
Rizzo pointed out that in four of the cases, the Redevelopment Authority, which had waived action by its board of review, was represented by James Greenlee, who later became chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. After a bitter feud, fought in the local papers, Rizzo bounced Greenlee.
"Look at that lawyer," Frank Rizzo shouted, pointing at the chart. "All the way through, the same lawyer. Mister Greenlee. There was a guy charging me with everything but rape. He had everything sewed up. Just look at those final settlements. Over $1 million. This is your money, my money. And it’s just a handful we found."
Frank Rizzo asked Phil Carroll how many similar cases will come out of a current investigation by 75 Philadelphia police detectives.
"Hundreds of them," Carroll answered. "And every one of them means at least $50,000."
For the next hour, Frank Rizzo and the others talked about the mismanagement of funds in City agencies, the squandering of millions of dollars on programs that never got off the ground, and the out-and-out theft of other millions. The thing that bothered them most was that the bureaucratic setup of the city agencies made it almost impossible in too many cases to fix responsibility for the blunders and thefts.
"This is only one batch," Rizzo said, again pointing to the chart. "We only went back one year. We didn’t go back any further. It’s just too much. If we went back further, forget it. Programs. Tell Herbie there wouldn’t be any programs for the next 50 years."
Obviously, Frank Rizzo knew that Herb Lipson was one of those who had criticized the mayor for not formulating new programs during his first year.
"Your boss is guilty of this," Frank Rizzo said. "He’ll say, ‘What about the programs?’ I say, ‘Herb Lipson, if I could bullshit my way through like you do, everything would be easy.”’
That one broke everybody up, especially me.
"You know, he sits back and you do all the fucking work." Frank Rizzo hammered away, "and he sits there. Programs. I get up to here with him. It takes hours and hours. You don’t bullshit this on paper. You gotta break your hump.
”I’m glad Herbie tangled with Claude Lewis," Rizzo laughed, referring to the Bulletin columnist’s blast at an editorial Lipson wrote, saying that blacks are partially responsible for the deterioration of life in their own neighborhoods. "He got off my ass for a while. I told him that. too. And he’s my friend, you know. I like Herbie. But he gives me that shit about programs and I start telling him about those fucking programs of his that went down the drain. Action 76. I say, ‘Hey Herbie, whatever happened to Action 76.’”
I hardly had time to digest the landslide of words when Frank Rizzo shot in another direction. Indirectly, it was aimed at his arch-enemy, he governor.
"Don’t forget that guy Kohn, working for Shapp," he spit. "Working on anti-trust cases. He was collecting from both sides. The City and the defendant in the case. We told him he’d get locked up. He sent us back a personal check for $112,000. It was a pleasure to hold it in my hand."
There was no stopping Frank Rizzo now. He was ready to take on every institution in Philadelphia that he figures has contributed to Philadelphia’s economic decay, what he figures are the rip-offs that have to be stopped before anyone even has time to think about programs. His first salvo was aimed at the banks and savings and loan companies that handle the mortgages for houses throughout the city.
He pointed out that while the banks and loan companies collect the mortgage payments each month, they hold that portion designated for real estate taxes for a full year in an escrow account before remitting the money to the City. They use the tax money, interest free, to invest and make more money while they’re holding it.
"No more," Frank Rizzo boomed. "They’re going to pay interest on that dough they’re holding. We have legislation on the way to Harrisburg."
It was Phil Carroll’s turn. "Mayor, that’s one of the problems with the school board. If the school board had the money that’s sitting in banks in escrow accounts. they would have the money to keep those schools open for a full year. They wouldn’t have to be borrowing money."
Frank Rizzo estimated that we were talking about $30-$40 million in tax money.
"See what I mean," the mayor said. ‘”Unraveling all the mismanagement in this city for the last 25 years, that’s what we’re doing. You can’t let it run itself. You have to put techniques in government that you would in a business. This is the problem with certain politicians. It’s not theirs. There’s nobody they’re accountable to."
There were no doubts that Rizzo was referring to everyone who favors increasing taxes and then haphazardly stuffing the greenbacks into every crack in the City’s weakening structure in hopes that maybe it will hold things together for a while, until the next crack appears.
I would have been disappointed if Frank Rizzo didn’t mention the Philapelphia Gas Works. Last year, he threw out the United Gas Improvement Corporation, the private consulting firm that ran the operation, and replaced it with a non-salaried board, mostly made up of personal friends from the business community like former movie theater magnate William Goldman.
Rizzo claimed the move saved the City no less than $800,000. The anti-Rizzo forces said he would have flunked fourth grade math using numbers the way he does.
Without skipping a beat, Frank Rizzo lashed out at the Gas Works. "Everybody takes that lightly. We saved $800,000 right off the bat. We found out they spent $1 million a year to travel. One million dollars! Venezuela, Algeria. We paid the fucking freight. One million dollars!"
By now I realized I had started something I couldn’t stop. I had set off an avalanche of angry words that I could hardly shut off long enough to ask questions.
"You take the schools," he said. "They gotta practice some economy like we did. They spend it any way, direction and form. Reckless. You don’t have that kind of money anymore. It’s not around. And you can’t get it off the taxpayer."
"We couldn’t believe it when we were going through the school budget," Phil Carroll joined in. "The secretaries … "
"They got more $30,000 jobs," Frank Rizzo blurted out, "than … than the mint!"
"For three guys, there’s eight secretaries," Carroll continued. "Unit after unit. Every principal, every vice principal. Everybody has a secretary, or two or three of them."
"Here I am the mayor," Frank Rizzo moaned. "And we got only two of them. And we share them."
"Cutting them down would mean easily a savings of $2 million," Carroll pointed out. "Just one item."
"We gotta get this strike settled first," Frank Rizzo sighed.
"Sabbaticals," Carroll tossed out.
"One million a year for sabbatical leaves," Frank Rizzo chimed in.
"But they can’t keep the schools open," Phil Carroll added as an afterthought.
The old Frank Rizzo, the cop, to a lot of people, didn’t worry about anything except rapists, muggers and stickup men. But the current Frank Rizzo, the mayor, seems to have broadened his scope as far as crime is concerned.
”I’m going to tell you something," he said softly. "As a cop, I was always concerned with the guy with the iron pipe, the gun. The violent criminal. But I’m going to tell you, my attitude’s changed. These scoundrels are just as bad. They affect the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. But nobody’s interested in this. Some guy sticks up a bank, we got to look for him until we find him.
"What burns me up, they stand up and tell everybody how honest they were. They call me ‘Gestapo.’ They cloud the issue. Like Tate and the wiretapping. I’m talking about corruption and he’s talking about wiretapping. That’s the headline. Wiretapping. Not corruption.
"You think South Philadelphia has racket guys," Frank Rizzo said. "They make South Philadelphia racket guys look like pikers. Even Rocky couldn’t come up with schemes like these guys."
I didn’t know who he meant by "Rocky," but I understood quite well everything Frank Rizzo was saying.
The mayor took a deep breath, like a signal that he was near the end of his spiel. "This is what we’re getting into. There’ll be a lot of aggida around here when we’re done. In English, Peter," he explained to Peter Rothberg, who was smiling like hell, "that’s indigestion.
"If we could have stopped what was going on, we could have had enough money to keep the suburbs going," he said. "Poor people. Let me tell you, the people who suffered were the poor, who were supposed to get this help. You can believe me, it didn’t get to the poor. It lined the pockets of that group in the middle."
"One of the first things he did in January," Tony Zecca added for emphasis, "was to hold up those federal funds for housing rehabilitation and code enforcement. Something like $25 million. Because he saw there was skulduggery going on."
”I’m not going to let them keep on stealing," Frank Rizzo said, picking up the cue. "The only thing to do was to stop it. You talk to people. They say, ‘Don’t be upset. It’s only federal money.’ I say, ‘You idiots, look at your paycheck tomorrow. You’ll find out whose money it is.’”
“The funny thing is," Tony Zecca added, "this stuff and the Housing Authority stuff was all done when the so-called intelligentsia was in power."
"The guys that are calling me incompetent." Frank Rizzo blasted, "or whatever-the-Christ they call me. The Police State. That senile old faker Joe Clark. He talks about the Fascist State. This is when all this happened!
"This is only the surface. Wait until we start unleashing some of the things that have been happening in this town," Frank Rizzo said in conclusion. "’We have a couple of them that are going to jump off the bridge, and they deserve it. Either the bridge or jail!”
It was late in the day by the time I walked out of City Hall, trying to figure out whatever gave Alan Halpern crazy notion that I could out Frank Rizzo just because I was an Italian kid from South Philly. The Big Italian guy from South Philly was still as much of an enigma to me as ever. He probably always will be.
I was convinced, sort of, that maybe he’ll be a hell of a lot better mayor than a lot of people think. I remembered the story about Anthony Cortigene, the union leader, remarking after one of the Dirty Dozen meetings with the mayor: "There’re a lot of good smells coming out of the kitchen, but I haven’t tasted the first course yet." Maybe this coming year we’ll all start eating.
And I tried to figure out why Frank Rizzo was so damned upset about corruption and mismanagement. I had to give him the credit that it had to do with his morals and his sense of right and wrong. But I couldn’t help but believe that a lot of that concern was motivated by his own enormous ego. I recalled what Tony Zecca had told me about the Rizzo
"His spit-shine is the shiniest in town. His car, and it’s polished inside and out, is the shiniest in town. The crease in his pants, it’s the sharpest in town. Everything has to be the best."
That was it. Frank Rizzo’s ego insists that he be the best. The best mayor this city ever had. He wants to go down in the books as the man who singlehandedly saved Philadelphia from the murk.
Frank Rizzo came into office, I felt, honestly believing that just a little bit of common sense, some housewife frugality and, of course, the Frank Rizzo personality, could turn Philadelphia around. Then he began actually seeing what’s been happening to this town for the past ten years, where a lot of money went, and he blew his top.
Those bastards screwed up the plans! They made it so tough, if not impossible, to get the City back on its feet. They threw the roadblocks in the way of letting Frank Rizzo do the things that will get him recognition as being the best mayor ever. The recognition he hungers for. I figured that’s probably the main reason he’s going after the corruption and mismanagement with a vengeance.
That’s why Frank Rizzo will probably run for governor one of these clays. He knows he can get trapped in Philadelphia by problems that even he can’t solve now. Those remarks he made just a few minutes before, the ones that went, "whoever follows me … ," told me something. Frank Rizzo wanted to change the City Charter as soon as he took office so that he could be mayor for life. Now he’s talking about the next mayor.
At any rate, I was convinced that Frank Rizzo hasn’t always gotten a fair shake from the guys who make the images, the newsmen. And there were no doubts about that. I’m sure that some go out of their way to make the guy look bad. But I guess that a lot of the time it’s so hard for even the most objective newsman to see through the bullshit. And Frank Rizzo doesn’t always help matters himself.
After all, in just a couple hours of candid conversation, he reinforced a good many of the old Rizzo images. But then again. he exposed a few new ones of Frank Rizzo in transition from cop to mayor. And even a couple of images that seemed to belong to another man.
I guess that, in a way, Frank Rizzo is all those things and none of them. He’s just whatever you want him to be, depending upon where you stand to do your looking.
I was sure glad, I told myself, as I walked down South Broad Street toward my office, that I wasn’t one of those poor souls who have to cover the guy every day, trying to figure out who or what he is, what he’s doing and why. If they don’t quit, get fired or transferred or hired away by Frank Rizzo, those City Hall reporters have to end up on the funny farm before long.
But then I started thinking about my own problem of trying to explain Frank Rizzo. And I started wishing like hell that Maury Levy was an Italian kid from South Philly.