Frank Rizzo Jr. Profile: Franny Takes a Lie-Detector Test

In which our hero, 71-year-old Frank Rizzo Jr., visits the ophthalmologist, talks sweetly about his famous father, makes a triumphant return to City Council, puts his vacation house on the market, and takes a lie-detector test, all in hopes of becoming (wait, is he serious about this?) Philadelphia’s next mayor.

Franny at the Rizzo family home in Chestnut Hill. Photography by Adam Jones

Franny at the Rizzo family home in Chestnut Hill. Photography by Adam Jones

Across his chest and abdomen, two corrugated rubber tubes. Pneumographs — to detect breathing irregularities. Wrapped around his upper arm, a Velcro cuff. ­A sphygmomanometer — to measure blood pressure. Beneath him, a motion-sensitive seat pad; wrapped around his ring and index fingers, black adhesive electrodes. He’s in a small room on the second floor of the Academy for Scientific Investigative Training, just off Rittenhouse Square, biting the nail on his left pinkie. Frank Rizzo is taking a lie-detector test.

The immediate stakes of the test are somewhat beside the point. The historical echoes, however, are not. In 1973, Frank’s father and namesake, the mayor, was accused of giving a city contract to the chairman of the Democratic City Committee in exchange for political support. To prove his innocence, he agreed to a polygraph test. He failed. The Daily News printed its immortal headline, and RIZZO LIED became the two most infamous words in Philadelphia political lore. Now the mayor’s son — Franny — says he’s running for mayor, too. And the fact that this 71-year-old snowbird retiree is hooked up to a series of wires at 11 a.m. on an April morning is an early indication that his own political identity cannot be disentangled from his father’s.

Perhaps any son of Rizzo’s would have had a difficult time emerging from the Bambino’s massive shadow. Little old ladies in black dresses used to drop to their knees and weep when the city’s first Italian-American mayor walked down South 9th Street, where his mural is now plastered. Liberals, African-Americans, good-government types — they abhorred him with similar passion. But he had a legacy.

For the first 32 years of his adult life, Frank Rizzo Jr. worked for the city’s electric utility. For a decade and a half after that, he served as an undistinguished Republican city councilman. Since being booted out of office in 2011, he’s been cloistered in the old family home with his wife, Debbie, and his mother, Carmella, living the dull, blissful life of an out-of-work politician. He flies south for the winter. He cruises around Chestnut Hill in his Corvette. He emails the CNN tip line to correct errors about their missing- Malaysian-airplane coverage.

Several months ago, he got restless and decided he wanted back in. Perhaps the surest sign of this transition came a couple weeks before the polygraph test, when he told me he’d be flying to his longtime vacation home in Aruba — not for R&R, but to put it on the market. “If everything goes well for me,” he said, “I won’t have time to use it.”

(Plus: “Things are pretty hot down there when it comes to sales. The Venezuelans are leaving Venezuela, and Aruba’s only two hours away.”)

There have been more official indicators. He switched his party registration from Republican to Democrat. He began consulting with advisers whose names he won’t reveal. He underwent an extensive physical. He ordered up red, white and blue campaign buttons that read THINK RIZZO FOR MAYOR.

Unfortunately for him, nobody else in Philadelphia politics seems to be thinking RIZZO FOR MAYOR. There are several reasons for the deep skepticism, none of them flattering. Even in his eighth decade, Franny is seen as a legacy kid without a real record to run on, while the “Rizzocrat” constituency that elected him to City Council, and his father as mayor, has long since disintegrated.

Which brings us to the second floor of the Academy for Scientific Investigative Training. One morning several days earlier, I called up roving Democratic über-consultant Neil Oxman, who engineered Rizzo Sr.’s first-ever defeat, in 1983. Oxman was so incredulous at the idea that Franny could be running for legitimate reasons — like many others who roam the corridors of City Hall, he thinks Franny’s a political pawn, being used by an old adviser of his father’s — that he wanted him to reveal his true motives by taking a polygraph test, wagering $10,000 that he’d fail.

Franny, in a surprise move, accepted the challenge without hesitation. “One thing I’ll tell you, I don’t lie,” he said. “I would love to take $10,000 of Neil Oxman’s money.” With one caveat: “I don’t want it to be perceived as some kind of stunt.”

Stunt or not, the bet isn’t simply a no-confidence vote in Rizzo’s mayoral potential. The request for him to take the same test his father did 40 years ago — to prove he’s not a tool of his father’s former right-hand man — reflects a widespread inability to see Franny Rizzo as anything other than his father’s son. To a certain extent, Rizzo is confirming that impression simply by strapping himself to a polygraph machine, by exhuming the old ghost. But in doing so, he’s also placing a bet of his own: If he passes the test, if the headlines don’t read RIZZO LIED, maybe then, at last, he’ll have become his own man.

The exam is being administered by Nathan Gordon, a solidly built man of impassive temperament and sterling reputation. Gordon walks into the little room, sits down at a desk next to Franny’s chair, and asks him to close his eyes. Franny, sitting perfectly still, does as instructed.

“Is today Sunday?” Gordon asks. “No,” Franny says. Today is Friday.

One for one.

THERE IS SURELY SOME STATUTE in this city’s charter that requires prominent political figures to name their firstborn sons after themselves, thereby burdening them with a lifetime of anxiety over their unfulfilled potential. Meet Wilson Goode. Meet Bill Green. Meet Frank Rizzo. Meet their boys.

Early on, though, as if everybody recognized it was ludicrous for him and his mythic dad to share the same first name, Frank Jr. became Franny, and Franny he would remain, long after Rizzo Sr. died of a heart attack in 1991. Frank the cop with the skull-busting rep and the nightstick in the cummerbund was six-foot-three and wide, with a size 20 collar. Franny is slighter and about a half-foot shorter, closer in stature to his paternal grandfather Raffaele, who emigrated from Calabria to South Philadelphia in 1908.

By the time Franny was born, Frank Sr. had moved the family from South Philly to Germantown, and Franny went to a series of nearby Catholic schools. His 1961 yearbook at Bishop McDevitt High in Wyncote, just across the city line, contains only one identifiable photo of him: a melancholic senior portrait, all baby fat and high cheekbones, deep-set eyes and a tentative smile. Franny wasn’t a particularly good student, and after high school, at 18, he went to work for the Philadelphia Electric Company as a lineman, eventually wending his way up to the front office, where he worked as a spokesman until the early 1990s.

Franny says that when he graduated from high school, there was a good financial incentive not to follow his father, soon to be police commissioner, into the force: Back then, a beat cop made significantly less than a utility grunt working the poles. But according to his sister, Joanna Mastronardo, Franny yearned to join the state police and was discouraged from doing so by their dad, who worried his many foes would take out their enmity toward him on Franny. “My father would not hear tell of it,” she says.

Growing up Rizzo, according to Sal Paolantonio’s 1993 biography of the former mayor, was a gentler experience than one would expect. “He doted over his firstborn son, perhaps trying to make up for how his father treated him,” Paolantonio wrote. Once Joanna was born, though, Frank’s attention shifted away from his son. “Frank Jr. was a little jealous of all the attention Joanna got from their father. Joanna was the princess of the family, proper and proud, tutored by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s, pampered by her father, whenever he was around,” Paolantonio reported.

So Franny did what he could to get closer to his dad. In his 20s, like his father, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve. And when he was back home in Philly, he preferred riding along in his father’s cruiser to hitting the bars. On a Friday or Saturday night, when Franny might have had plans to tool around town with his buddies in his souped-up 1962 Plymouth Fury, his father would call him from the station. “He’d say, ‘Do you want to ride with me?’” his son recalls. “And I’d say, ‘Police Commissioner, are you kidding?’ I’d blow anything off to be able to be with him and just see the respect that he got from the men and women that worked with him.”

Frank Rizzo’s record in the 1960s reads like a parody blotter of a tough-on-crime cop sending coded racial messages. He raided the Black Panthers. He raided the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He reportedly ordered his men to beat the “black asses” of high-school students demonstrating for black history courses, to break up the black activists protesting segregated Girard College, and to intimidate the black looters destroying white properties along Columbia Avenue. His brutal tactics ended up defining not just his electoral strategy — “Forget about the niggers,” he reportedly instructed an adviser during his 1974 reelection campaign — but his public image. “He’s certainly a Hitler,” former Philadelphia mayor Joseph Clark told the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1975. “He’s a typical dictator demagogue. He makes George Wallace look like an amateur.”

Franny, who like his father was a Nixon supporter, took such criticism personally. The first time he met TV newsman Larry Kane, in 1967, he asked him, “What do you think of this Rizzo guy?” without revealing his identity. Kane apparently passed the test, and the two became friendly, even going on a double date together. In Franny’s romantic life, Kane says, that same hair-trigger defensiveness persisted: “He had this horrible habit of meeting a woman and then saying, ‘What do you think of Frank Rizzo?’ And if he didn’t like the answer, I think he would basically leave the room.”

Apparently he didn’t find an acceptable answer until the summer of 1991, when he met his eventual wife, Debbie Altemus, a then-40-year-old divorcée from Upper Providence Township who barely knew who Franny’s father was. Frank Sr. had died just before they met, and the timing doesn’t seem entirely coincidental. “You know he didn’t get married until he was 63,” says his sister Joanna, “and I think that the closeness to the family is one of the reasons.” Even once Franny and Debbie began dating, it took them 15 years to get married — and they waited until then to live together. Again, Rizzo family pathology helps explain the delay. Debbie had children from her previous marriage, and Carmella Rizzo, an old-school Roman Catholic, didn’t entirely approve of her.

Once they did wed, in 2006, the Rizzos moved to that breeding ground of the Philadelphia B-List, the Residences at Dockside, on the Delaware River. Two years later, they moved back home. Carmella, now 97, took a bad spill, and Franny told Debbie he needed to be there for her. “I worry about the day something happens to my mother,” Joanna says. “I think my brother’s going to take it very, very hard.” Today, Franny, Debbie and his mother all inhabit the familiar Crefeld Street abode, which Frank Sr. bought in 1971. (Joanna moved away from home long ago, marrying Joseph “Joe Vito” Mastronardo Jr., a well-known gambler. In January, Mastronardo and his son, Franny’s nephew, pleaded guilty to multiple charges related to a multimillion-dollar illegal gambling and money-laundering scheme. Joanna escaped racketeering conspiracy charges but has been charged with evading income-reporting requirements.)

It wasn’t until his father died, in the midst of his 1991 mayoral campaign, that Franny even contemplated entering politics. In his 30s and 40s, living at home, he served as a sort of all-purpose fixer for Team Rizzo. “Franny played a behind-the-scenes, critically important role of just keeping the whole Rizzo campaign together. He was the infrastructure,” says Michael Smerconish, then a close adviser and a surrogate son to Rizzo during his failed ’87 mayoral campaign.

In 1995, having left PECO for a gig in Ed Rendell’s Commerce Department, Franny finally got the itch and one night planned a visit to a Democratic City Committee meeting to seek its endorsement for an at-large Council seat. On his way there, as he tells it, he was apprehended by GOP mayoral candidate Joe Rocks, who asked him to run as a Republican instead. Apparently, that’s all it took. Rizzo ran, ousted incumbent Joan Specter, and would serve as a Republican for the next 16 years.

When I ask Franny what his father would have thought of his running for mayor, he jams up and freezes, like some ’90s-model desktop computer. “If he were alive, I don’t think I’d have a chance to run, ’cause he’d be running,” he says, finally. It was out of the question, in other words, for both of them to share the same turf. “He would not want me to be in the same arena as he was in.”

AT 3:45 P.M. ON A TUESDAY in April, I walk into the Walnut Street office of Frank Rizzo’s ophthalmologist and sit down next to some people with actual eye problems. Franny arrives five minutes after I do, hustling across the waiting room to greet me. Just back from his jaunt to Aruba, he’s wearing a Creamsicle-orange Tommy Bahama sweatshirt, with a tan to match.

The plan is for us to meet here and head back to Chestnut Hill after his 4 p.m. appointment, to catch a glimpse of his post-political life. But first, there’s this business with the ophthalmologist. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” he says when the doctor, Robert Wortman, appears. “He’s been my doc for a long time. But the interesting thing is: I didn’t know it, the Mayor didn’t know it, but he takes care of the Mayor and me.”

These days, the similarities between Rizzo and Mayor Michael Nutter pretty much end at their mutual trust of Dr. Robert Wortman. Though everything about Franny’s present lifestyle suggests retirement, in reality he’s a political exile. In 2011 he lost his Council seat in the primary, accumulating an impressively pathetic total of 5,000 votes citywide. The fall from grace can be explained simply. In 2011, Rizzo did in fact “retire,” so he could collect $194,000 in cash from the much-maligned DROP program, a.k.a. Monopoly Free Parking for Philly Pols. The problem? His plan was to then “unretire” and continue to serve on Council.

The bad publicity around DROP, along with some feudal bickering between Rizzo and the (two) other Republicans on Council, gave the city GOP a couple good excuses to wash its hands of him. So they refused to endorse his candidacy — one ward leader sued to have his name omitted from sample ballots — and his ties to the party were severed for good. “In the past, I can tell you [the party was] in such dire straits for [mayoral] candidates that he would have been welcomed,” says State Representative John Taylor, the chairman of the Republican City Committee. “Would he be an attractive [mayoral] candidate to us now? No.” (Rizzo agrees his frosty relationship with the current GOP party leaders explains his party switch.)

Another reason Rizzo was never truly welcomed into the Republican fold is that he didn’t really stand for anything they did. Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. told me a story about the time the Republicans on Council opposed a campaign finance bill Goode had sponsored and instructed Rizzo not to vote for it. “That sort of pissed him off,” Goode says. “So he came to me and told me he was going to vote for it, because he didn’t like being dictated to.” As the anecdote suggests, however, he didn’t really stand for anything on the Democratic side of the aisle, either. “It was like a game,” says a staffer who worked for him in the mid-2000s. “It wasn’t about what was right or what wasn’t right. He would treat his vote like a chip.”

Rizzo’s lack of interest in governing, however, shouldn’t be confused with a lack of interest in the job writ large. He simply viewed his position in a very specific way: as a vehicle for doing thousands of tiny favors for anyone who asked. “He had the greatest constituent service in the history of City Council,” Kane tells me with Cronkite-level gravitas. And the bills he did champion reflected his passion for the most pedestrian issues. The legislative accomplishment he cites most frequently, for instance, was the establishment of a cell-phone lot at the airport.

Again, this instinct has much to do with his father. While Frank Rizzo the mayor has by now become something of an avatar for Philadelphia’s Nixon-era racial strife, his son remembers him in a different way. “We both always wanted to help people,” Franny says, nursing a glass of white wine and a liverwurst-and-onion sandwich during an early dinner in the back booth at McNally’s, in Chestnut Hill. “My father, my God, Simon, I could tell you. One morning, he was on the way to work. This is how kind he was. There was a loose dog, got away from its owner. My father being a smart guy, he opened the [car] door.” Dog jumps in. Dog shakes all over the notoriously immaculate Rizzo. Dog saved. Moral of the story: “I mean, what mayor would think about picking up a stray dog?”

This may sound like a whitewash — boiling down his father’s controversial record to an Aw, shucks yarn about a stray dog. That said, one oft-forgotten part of Rizzo Sr.’s legacy was his messianic belief in getting favors done for proverbial little guys. Even after he had been booted from office, Rizzo would patrol the city from the passenger seat of his sedan, taking calls on the car phone and dispatching foot soldiers to take care of odd jobs around town for loyal Rizzocrat grannies.

Frank Jr. fills a similar role as a perpetually on-call Mr. Fix-It for thousands of Philadelphians suffering from annoying but non- life-threatening issues. For them, it doesn’t matter that he’s not a councilman anymore. “I have spoken to him recently,” Smerconish says when I ask about their relationship. “Frankly, it was because I needed advice on a generator. There’s nobody better for something like that.”

Indeed, when (if) Rizzo makes a campaign announcement, the word “pothole” will almost certainly be invoked. “Steering around all these craters in the road, I’m saying to myself, ‘Why are we dealing with this? We’re almost at Easter, these things should be taken care of,’” he tells me, in what amounts to an early stump speech. “Potholes are not new,” he rails. “Why can’t we fix this?”

But where Rizzo Sr. supplemented the customer-service shtick with an otherworldly force of personality and politically shrewd law-and-order tactics, all Franny’s got is the potholes. When I ask him which political figures he’s been impressed by lately, he takes a long pause. Perhaps forgetting that he’s running for mayor as a Democrat, he eventually tells me he was impressed by Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, before recovering somewhat and praising the deceased Arlen Specter.

Franny is sensitive to the charge that he’s a lightweight. “They’re going to beat me up and say I’m not college-educated,” he predicts. On the other hand, after a couple glasses of Clos du Bois, a little swagger breaks through. “You hafta understand. A lot of these guys are jealous of me. And I know they are, because they don’t have the ability to do what I do. They don’t understand it. Their way of resolving a problem is picking up the phone and telling a commissioner to take care of this. And hopefully it gets done, and most times it never gets done. I don’t operate that way. It ain’t a done deal till I know it’s done.”

Chip on shoulder, Franny invites me to his old stomping grounds, to pay a visit to some old friends and enemies.

ON THE FOURTH FLOOR of City Hall is a large, cavernous chamber upholstered with portraits of former Council presidents. In the middle of the room is a round table in the style of Dr. Strangeloveat which Council members sit before their Thursday-morning sessions and avail themselves to the mere mortals of Philadelphia.

Here in the Caucus Room is where Frank Rizzo and I meet on one such Thursday morning. While the reunion tour is being staged in part for my benefit — I had expressed hope that we could do something campaign-ish together — Franny is also eager to glad-hand his way back into political consciousness. Of course, it’s a little early for all this, and Franny hasn’t yet made a formal announcement. Still, he gamely marches up to everyone he sees, telling them about his mayoral plans.

Bill Greenlee, the at-large councilman, walks into the room with his head buried in a sheaf of papers. “Councilman!” Franny shouts, sticking out his hand. Greenlee looks up and smiles: “Frank, how you been?” Franny explains my presence, rubbing his hands together: “He’s hanging out with me for a couple days before I do my thing.” “Oh, okay,” Greenlee says. “What’s your thing?”

Franny seems pleased when Council president Darrell Clarke later acknowledges his presence formally. But in truth, none of these guys — or any other Philadelphia political players — are taking his mayoral ambitions seriously. When I call Sam Katz and tell him I’m writing a story about Rizzo, the first thing he says is, “Why?” When I return to City Hall a week later, one councilman goes off the record just to laugh at the prospect of Franny running for mayor.

Ex-councilman and current son-of-former-mayor Bill Green, now chairman of the School Reform Commission, is less inhibited. “I’ll laugh on the record,” he says. “If you have a name and you can get somewhere to do some good because of that, that’s fine, I can respect that. If you have a name and you spend your time in Aruba and show up on Thursdays in Council, that’s something I don’t have a lot of respect for.” There’s more: “If he has a vision, it would be a vision of him being mayor, not to accomplish any particular end.”

Considering the lack of respect Rizzo got as a councilman — and now as a mayoral candidate — he might seem a hapless, ultimately benign legislator. But there’s a less sympathetic side to him that complicates the picture. Though it’s an open secret in City Hall, the public record contains but one examination of it — a 2001 Daily News article that began with the line: “This is a tale of two Rizzos, Frank and Franny, a kind of Jekyll and Hyde.” Jekyll was Franny the constituent-service master, the guy with the Rizzo to the Rescue call-in radio show. Hyde was the petty micromanager whose staff members were so traumatized by working for him that to this day they organize happy hours to collectively lament the experience.

The central issue was that Franny would ride them all day long — often from his Shore house or from Aruba — to make sure they had completed largely meaningless tasks. “What he would do is [leave] us these messages,” says one former staffer who sounds genuinely scarred by his tenure. “It would be like, ‘Call the guy in Chestnut Hill to make sure the trash is collected on Thursday.’” Then two minutes later, he’d call back. And so on until the detail was confirmed. “He’s just such a weak, small little man who needed to [exert] power over other people. Goofy stuff. Really, really goofy stuff.”

Former Rizzo chief of staff Stewart Graham, who now works for Councilman David Oh and was widely acknowledged as the brains of the Rizzo office, suggests that much of this is rumor and sour grapes. But he does confirm the broad outlines of the control-freak impression: Rizzo, he says, once called him 137 times in a single day. (He checked.)

“He was always fine-tuning every detail, so that made him a real taskmaster,” adds Fred Hess, Rizzo’s longtime campaign manager. “As long as you stayed on track with that, you didn’t have a lot of trouble with Frank. But if you made a mistake … Frank would come down on you.”

Rizzo acknowledges that he was hard on his employees, though he rejects the word “tough.” “When people like my constituents need assistance and help, there are some times when you got to give direction or make sure that there’s follow-through,” he says.

To a certain extent, the attention to detail may have been inherited from his father, who abhorred a car or a pair of shoes or a nightstick that wasn’t properly polished. But Franny’s need to exert control over the minutiae of office life may have also been a reaction to the discrepancy in influence between him and his father. “Frank was always proud of his father, always supportive of his father,” says Hess. “But you know, when the first thing out of someone’s mouth isn’t ‘How you doing today, Frank?’ — it’s ‘I remember your father, what a great man, he’s the greatest man I ever met’ — maybe that’s why Frank tries so hard to hit every detail. And I think his father would have respected that.”

While the Greek-tragedy element surely doesn’t explain every facet of Franny Rizzo’s personality, politically speaking, at least, it’s hard to discount. When he would visit his father in City Hall in the ’70s, he says, his father insisted on kissing him goodbye in front of his staff. “If my father wants to kiss me,” he says with something bordering on defiance, “I kiss him back.” “He was my hero,” Franny adds. “I mean, at 40 years old, it was corny to love your father the way I did. But I idolized him.”

Even so, Franny isn’t blind to the uglier parts of his father’s legacy. “My whole life, people have been forming opinions of me based on my dad,” he says, and makes a concerted effort to convince me not to do the same. One of the mini-wars being fought in municipal politics right now concerns Mayor Nutter’s proposed privatization of the city’s gas utility, a move Franny says merits consideration. This is notable, since it was his father who first took the Gas Works out of private hands, turning it into a poorly run patronage den. With respect to black voters, Franny makes an even greater attempt to distance himself from Frank Sr. When we visit City Council, he repeatedly introduces me to African-American staffers, telling me later that he wanted them to tell me firsthand what a good relationship they had.

Franny, in other words, wants to be recognized as his own man, but also doesn’t want to stray too far from the family name, knowing it’s his surest political meal ticket. “It was nice to not meet someone and they’d have to tell me 10 stories about my father,” Franny says of his early relationship with Debbie. “But listen. I never, ever cut someone short who wanted to tell me a story about my dad.”

THE PUREST MANIFESTATION of Franny’s unwillingness to carve out an entirely distinct identity for himself is, of course, the house. With its classic Chestnut Hill stone masonry and slate-tile roofing, the Crefeld Street home has remained virtually unchanged since Rizzo Sr. refurbished it (not entirely with his own money, as it turned out, in another Rizzo mini-scandal) in the early 1970s. The mantels are populated by little porcelain figurines Carmella has collected over the years. The kitchen, with its cheery yellow wallpaper, hasn’t graduated from the Technicolor era.

When Carmella’s husband was mayor, media were generally barred from coming into the house. Franny, who was nervous about letting me visit, eventually convinced his mother that I wasn’t simply a newspaper “reporter” but rather a magazine “journalist.” Though I’m not entirely clear on the significance of the distinction, even the light vetting process speaks to his self-styled role as the house’s new protector.

I walk in around 5:30 p.m., while Carmella is eating dinner with her two aides. As she finishes, Franny and Debbie take me on a tour of the house that culminates with his father’s old office. Mostly unused even when he was alive, the room now serves as a shrine to Rizzo. I see a copy of Paolantonio’s book on a shelf and ask Franny if he liked it. “I went into it saying to Sal, ‘I’ll give you all the help you need to do this, but I don’t want my mom embarrassed,’” he says, leaning in. “I said, ‘Please, if there’s anything about hookers or any women, you know, that you might stumble upon, I’d appreciate you being courteous.’” (There wasn’t.)

After we finish, Carmella is sitting in the living room in a reclining chair, her legs propped up. Franny motions for me to sit down on a couch next to her and gets her to start telling me stories. Her hearing isn’t great, but her mind is sharp. Among her reminiscences: the time her husband saw Mother Teresa’s ratty sandals and offered to buy her a new pair; the dinner party with Frank Sinatra and Henry Kissinger; those handsome embroidered white suits Elvis Presley used to wear. Franny paces around the room, sitting down and standing up, egging her on.

Eventually I ask her what she thinks of her son’s mayoral ambitions. “I think he would make a good mayor,” she says, speaking slowly. “He’s had a lot of experience. He knows his city inside out.”

Franny is standing on the other side of the room. “Thanks for the nice words. I’ll never forget them,” he says, looking at her. “I told you, I never expected you to be wanting me to do that. I thought you were going to say, ‘Don’t do it.’”

“No, if that’s what you want, that’s it,” Carmella says, as Franny walks over and gently taps the tops of her feet. “You’ll be a good mayor. Good, good mayor.”

BUT BEFORE WE FIND OUT if he’ll make a good mayor, we must find out if he can win the mayoralty. And before we find out if he can win the mayoralty, we must find out if he even wants to win the mayoralty. And to do that, he must take a polygraph test.

Back in the little room on the second floor of the Academy for Scientific Investigative Training, Nate Gordon sits before a black laptop that will reveal to him any unusually seismic patterns in Rizzo’s responses. I watch the interview on a closed-circuit TV.

Oxman’s theory of mayoral subterfuge — forgive the petty tribalism of it all — goes like this: Rizzo is getting into the race only to help the candidacy of the presumptive favorite, State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, who is black, by peeling away white votes from more serious contenders. Why? Because he struck a deal with the guy backing Williams’s campaign, his father’s longtime friend and adviser Marty Weinberg.

“Has anyone encouraged you to run for mayor in order to aid the Williams campaign?” Gordon asks.

“No,” Franny says.

“Has Marty Weinberg asked you to run for mayor to aid the election of anyone besides yourself?”


“Are you running for mayor to influence the election of anyone besides yourself?”


Gordon repeats these same questions for the next hour, interspersing them with occasional placebos: Can you remember lying to protect someone else? No. Right now, are you in Switzerland? No. Is today Sunday? No.

When he’s done, a printer spits out a three-foot-long piece of fax paper blanketed with an incomprehensible jumble of numbers and decimal points. Gordon walks it over to Franny and shows it to him. At the top, in bold letters, are the words No Deception Indicated — Probability of Deception Is Less Than .01. “So that’s good?” Franny confirms. Gordon nods.

Rizzo passed.

Frank Rizzo walks out of the room and pumps my hand triumphantly. He says he wants Oxman’s $10,000 check made out to the Frank L. Rizzo Monument Committee. “My dad’s statue could use a little polish.”

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.