The Mayor’s Office announced this morning it will propose removal of the controversial Frank Rizzo statue in Thomas Paine Plaza.
“Earlier this year we initiated a call for ideas on the future of the Rizzo statue,” said Michael DiBerardinis, Managing Director for the City. “We carefully reviewed and considered everyone’s viewpoints and we have come to the decision that the Rizzo statue will be moved to a different location.”
That location has not specified. The proposal for removal, formulated after a month of collecting public input, includes a renovation of Thomas Paine Plaza to make it “more inviting” and similar to Dilworth Park or LOVE Park. Nothing can be finalized, however, until the Art Commission approves a formal proposal from the Mayor’s Office. That likely won’t come for at least another six months, as the Mayor’s Office noted it will need that long to complete a formal proposal. A timeline for renovations to the plaza is expected in time for the Mayor’s budget address in March.
For the Art Commission, the request to remove the statue is unprecedented. It has voted to move sculptures to accommodate new structures but not over a controversy. The group, which meets monthly, cannot act until a formal proposal is received.
The fervor over the Rizzo statue began in August after violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., and removals of Confederate statues in other cities. In a tweet that went viral, Councilwoman Helen Gym said, “All around the country, we’re fighting to remove the monuments to slavery & racism. Philly, we have work to do. Take the Rizzo statue down.”
Elsewhere around the country, statues that attracted scrutiny at the same time as Philadelphia’s Rizzo statue have been removed. In Dallas, the city council held an emergency vote to remove a Robert E. Lee statue. The Pittsburgh Art Commission voted last week to remove a statue of songwriter Stephen Foster. Baltimore’s mayor ordered the removal of four Confederate-related statues in mid August.
In a conversation with Billy Penn Thursday, Gym was confident the city would soon make the decision to remove the statue.
“I think that people have made very clear over a period of time that they want to see the public spaces of our city represent a big vision for Philadelphia, one that moves us beyond a complicated past and toward a future that feels like it’s conclusive of all people,” Gym said. “And I think that this is the type of administration committed to that vision of this city’s future.”