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By delaying Rizzo statue move, Mayor Kenney risks losing black voters | Solomon Jones

If black folks right here in Philadelphia can't depend on Kenney to come through on his promises, he is no more effective than Trump. Actions, after all, speak louder than words.

For now the Frank Rizzo statue is in place in front of the MSB Building entrance.
For now the Frank Rizzo statue is in place in front of the MSB Building entrance.Read moreGeneva Heffernan / Staff

One hundred thousand dollars.

That's the minimum amount Mayor Kenney gave as the cost of moving the statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo from the steps of the Municipal Services Building. Like the statues of Confederate generals in the South, Rizzo's statue is widely considered a symbol of racism and oppression. Still, we've been told we have to wait for the statue to be moved.

Well, the black community is tired of waiting. Either Kenney keeps his promise to move the statue of the man who ordered police to beat black teens during a 1967 demonstration at the Board of Education, or we will take our votes elsewhere. It really is that simple. And if Kenney has examined where his votes must come from to win reelection in 2019, he knows he needs black votes to win.

Ironically, Mayor Kenney, in a radio interview on Praise 107.9 FM, told me that political considerations were not the reason for his decision to delay moving the statue. In fact, he said, recent reports that he was waiting until after the next mayoral election to move the statue were completely false.

"No, that's not the case," Kenney said when I asked whether the statue would stay until after the mayoral election. "The issue is, first of all, we both agree that it needs to go. It is a symbol of a lot of bad things in our city's history, and people should not be forced to walk under it or gaze at it as they go in to pay their taxes or get a permit. The issue for us is, it is a very complicated issue in that how it was installed. It was bolted into the roof of the concourse. It's not just a matter of picking it up and moving it. It's 3,000 pounds, and it's going to cost a lot of money from the general fund to move it."   

Kenney said there is a plan to move the statue using money outside the general fund. But until that takes place, the statue will remain, and it is a stark reminder that while Kenney has been able to do some good things, such as lowering the municipal prison population, he has failed to come through on other promises to the black community.

We have already watched Kenney slow-walk his promise to end the controversial police practice of stop and frisk — a practice that disproportionately targets black and brown people. If he does the same with his promise to move the Rizzo statue, it will be clear that the black community's demands are not a priority — despite Kenney's claims to the contrary.

And that's ironic, given that Kenney has begun to lob rhetorical bombs at President Trump over Trump's immigration policies — policies that often seem driven by race.

For example, late last year, when the Trump administration announced its decision to remove temporary protected status from 59,000 Haitians, Kenney said the White House had "no compassion whatsoever" before deriding the president as a "bully and a punk" and questioning how Trump was raised.

Still, if black folks right here in Philadelphia can't depend on Kenney to come through on his promises, he is no more effective than Trump. Actions, after all, speak louder than words.

But even while trying to please the black folks in the loose coalition that elected him in 2015, Kenney must also consider his other supporters. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and other building trades unions that are virtually all white and all male endorsed him. That is a political truth, and it's one that Kenney must face.

Organizations such as the FOP prefer the Kenney who is a former Mummer and the son of a South Philly firefighter. They like the Kenney who in 1997 said: "We now have discussions, ironically, about no longer allowing police officers to use pepper gas. I mean, come on. You can't use the flashlights, you can't use the clubs on the head, you can't shoot anybody. What's next? Are we going to hand them feather dusters?"

The Rizzo voters in Kenney's coalition like that kind of talk. They don't like talk of moving Rizzo's statue. And as former Mayor W. Wilson Goode told me in an interview, when Goode ran against Rizzo, those who supported Rizzo were 38 percent of Philadelphia voters, "But they voted like they were 68 percent."

I believe that's still true. I also believe that the same people who supported Rizzo's abusive policing tactics in black and brown communities are the same people who support Trump today. Kenney, in asserting that politics played no role in his decision to delay the statue's relocation, said he would never get those people's votes.

I'm not so sure about that. I think if Kenney delays moving the statue, he will get the votes of Rizzo supporters, but he may very well lose reelection.

It's up to Kenney to decide which is more important.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on Praise 107.9 FM.. Email him at Find him on Twitter at @solomonjones1