Thursday, February 3, 2011

DROP, the need for new leadership, and the preservation of the Rizzo namesake

When I founded this group, I promised that it would be nonpartisan...even though the gross majority of the Philadelphia political "machine" is democratic. Well, here's an example of a republican on the hot seat and unfortunately, he bears one of the most legendary names in Philadelphia...Councilman Frank Rizzo.

Even as a New Yorker, I often idolized Councilman Rizzo's father, Frank L. I have old buttons and a photo of Mayor Rizzo with Frank Sinatra in 1976, I've read Sal Paloantonio's book "Rizzo" and even own an original copy of "the Cop Who Would Be King". The senior Frank Rizzo was a high school dropout who joined the Navy and returned to Philadelphia to join the Police Department, becoming a hard-charger. He later rose to the rank of Commissioner, responsible for keeping the peace in this tough city despite a generation of anti-war protests, ethnic militants, and a strong Mafia. The elder Rizzo held the office of Mayor from 1972 to '80 and while other major US cities were going into deep economic depression, rioting, and losing population...Philadelphia stood firm due to an unprecedented crossing of the aisle for Mayor Rizzo (D) to strike a deal with President Nixon (R) for federal assistance. While this was happening, Councilman Rizzo's uncle Joe rose to become one of the most legendary commissioners in the Philadelphia Fire Department.

During the Rizzo reign in public service, Councilman Frank Rizzo had a lucrative job at PECO, where he eventually retired before running for one of the two republican council-at-large seats. While the Rizzo tenure in City Council has been good, I always noted a lack of the intestinal fortitude that Mayor Rizzo had; where he was willing to aggravate voters and risk alienating parts of the population to say what he felt was right and do the same.

I personally thought Councilman Frank Rizzo was a decent public servant who does his job, which is a damn site better than a great deal of the other council members currently occupying space at city hall.

Which, combined with my undying respect for his father and uncle, makes this post so hard to write.

The DROP retirement plan was designed as an incentive for public servants like Police, Fire, Teachers, etc to work (and stay working) for the city. While it was being implemented, City Council got their hooks into it and utilized loopholes to join the program despite their 6-digit salaries. Furthermore, when the ethical issues surrounding DROP came to light, Council Members tried to "retire" for a day before beginning their next term to pad their savings accounts to the tune of $150-$450K, while the city suffers through fire house and library closings due to budget shortfalls. City solicitors (who coincidentally also participate in DROP) ruled this practice "legal", but is it at all ETHICAL?

Many senior council members have been faced with a choice due to voter scrutiny...keep the DROP money or don't run for another term. Some have respectfully "bowed out" and retired, and some are still going to try to have their cake and eat it too.

Frank Rizzo is one of these council members.

Two weeks ago, I attended a "meet the candidates" night at a local watering hole in Center City. Many council candidates appeared, while Rizzo did not. Instead he sent his aide who bravely shouldered a great deal of hard questions...including some from me. Despite the tone in the room, the official stand from Councilman Rizzo's office was that he was going to try and take DROP and come back to work for another term, if elected.

Like Michael said to Fredo after a symbolic kiss..."You broke my heart".

I may be more understanding about this desire for personal preservation if Councilman Rizzo stood for real change at city hall, but I just don't see that. I think it may be time for the Councilman to retire and give his seat to a new, hard charger.

Check out today's column by Stu Bykofsky in the News (below) and post your thoughts on the matter:
Stu Bykofsky: Dear Franny, you know it's time to go

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