Joe Biden — a longtime critic of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo — said a statue never should have been erected in his honor and on Sunday commended city leaders for removing the likeness.
Biden, who officially passed the delegate threshold to clinch the Democratic nomination last week, spoke in Philadelphia on Tuesday, a day before the statue was removed. Then, on Sunday, he told The Inquirer in a statement that “Frank Rizzo should have never had a statue in his honor in the first place. Mayor Kenney and local officials were right to remove it.”
Biden’s criticism of Rizzo goes back to May 1975 when, as a senator speaking at a Democratic Party dinner in Philadelphia, Biden went off on Rizzo, comparing him to Richard Nixon and George Wallace, “men who stand for everything that is wrong in the country.”
In the attack, written up in the Daily News at the time, Biden called Rizzo a “flat-out, four-flushing phony,” and suggested he carry Nixon’s golf clubs.
“Did you see the picture of Richard Nixon in a golf cart with a big smile on his face?” Biden asked Democrats gathered in Philadelphia, according to the Daily News report. “I understand Richard Nixon needs a caddie. I can think of nobody who’s more used to carrying his clubs than Frank Rizzo.”
Rizzo was commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department from 1968 to 1971, when he resigned to run for mayor. He won that election, and served from January 1972 to January 1980. Rizzo, who prided himself in being a “law-and-order mayor,” was known for racist and homophobic policies and beliefs, which he wasn’t shy about sharing. The statue, placed in front of the Municipal Services Building in 1999, had been a controversial tribute to a man many saw as deeply flawed and undeserving of the honor.
Mayor Kenney had promised for three years to remove the statue. It was taken away early Wednesday after days of protesting in the city.
Kenney said in a statement that the statue “is a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others. The treatment of these communities under Mr. Rizzo’s leadership was among the worst periods in Philadelphia’s history."
Its removal also prompted the painting over of a Rizzo mural in South Philadelphia.