Supporters of the controversial statue of Frank L. Rizzo on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor Jim Kenney, demanding to be allowed to take possession of the 2,000-pound bronze sculpture that was removed last month from Thomas Paine Plaza amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The complaint, filed by lawyer George Bochetto in Common Pleas Court on behalf of the Frank L. Rizzo Monument Committee, has been moved at the city’s request to federal court, since it raises constitutional “due process” issues. It is now pending before Judge Darnell Jones, according to Bochetto. (Update July 2)
The committee requests an order that the statue of the former mayor and police commissioner be preserved and turned over to the committee, which is represented in the lawsuit by Jody Della Barba, a South Philadelphia community activist and former secretary to Rizzo.
The lawsuit includes affidavits from Della Barba and from Rizzo’s son, former City Councilmember Frank S. Rizzo, who states that he “will suffer immediate and irreparable harm” if the statue “of my beloved father” is discarded or destroyed by the city.
“The statue is a unique piece of art with immense sentimental value that cannot be properly compensated by money damages,” the complaint says.
Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Kenney, said the statue is in storage until the city decides what to do with it, and that is what the people behind the lawsuit were told before they went to court.
“They are bitter and disgruntled because we took it down and the statue will never stand on city property again,” Dunn said in an email. “This ‘emergency’ lawsuit is a frivolous cry for public attention. The city has more pressing things to worry about — like dismantling the structural racism that the statue stood for.”
Rizzo embraced his reputation as a “law-and-order” mayor, and was long decried for his aggressive tactics policing the Black and gay communities.
The lawsuit claims that the city violated the terms of a 1998 agreement with the committee when it removed the statue from in front of the Municipal Services Building early June 3.
The lawsuit includes a photo, which has been circulating on social media, by an unknown person of the statue on the back of a flatbed truck at an undisclosed city facility.
After the statue was removed, the city said that once a plan for what to do with it was developed, it “will be presented to the Philadelphia Art Commission for approval.”
Rizzo was police commissioner from 1968 to 1971, when he resigned to run for mayor. He won that election and served from January 1972 to January 1980.
The statue, by sculptor Zenos Frudakis, was unveiled in 1999.