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The Rizzo statue? It’s staying put until after Kenney’s 2019 reelection campaign | Clout

It has been a year since controversy flared around the statue of the late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and nine months since Mayor Kenney's administration announced that it would be relocated. But nothing will happen for another two to three years, which looks like convenient political timing for Kenney's bid for reelection.

Police officers guard a statue of former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The statue that has spurred protests and vandalism from critics who argue that his policies alienated minorities.
Police officers guard a statue of former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The statue that has spurred protests and vandalism from critics who argue that his policies alienated minorities.Read moreAP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Rizzo statue could have been a ton of trouble for Mayor Kenney  just months before his reelection campaign.

But the grinding gears of government bureaucracy will stall — with sweeping serendipity — the controversial relocation of the statue of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo until long after it could have consequences for Kenney's bid for a second term.

In November, the Kenney administration announced that the 2,000-pound, 10-foot-tall bronze statue would be "moved to a different location." But on Thursday, Kenney acknowledged to  Clout that the statue will continue to loom over Thomas Paine Plaza, across the street from City Hall, for at least two to three more years.

Kenney insisted politics didn't play a role in the delay.

"It doesn't impact my election one way or the other," he said.

Some history: Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of City Councilwoman Helen Gym's tweet about the national debate "to remove the monuments to slavery and racism" in the wake of the violent clash in Charlottesville, Va.

"Take the Rizzo statue down," Gym demanded, setting off a wave of roiled emotions about Rizzo.

The Rizzo statue pits two key parts of Kenney's electoral coalition against each other. On one side of the clash, Kenney's old-school base in South Philly sees the statue as a monument to a city hero. On the other side, Kenney's progressive fans deride it as a reminder of racist police and city actions of the past.

Kenney played it down the middle, calling for residents to provide suggestions about the statue's fate. That resulted in 3,601 replies, which were funny, profane, angry, proud, and, of course, thoroughly Philadelphian. ("Keep it right where it is you crumb bums!!!!!" wrote one Rizzocrat.)

Jane Slusser, Kenney's chief of staff, said the administration spent the last year identifying potential new sites for the statue, narrowing them to five locations in South Philly, where Rizzo was born. Next, the mayor's office will reach out for discussions in those neighborhoods, one by one, until a site is picked, she said. Then comes a feasibility study next year.

The city's Home Rule Charter also gives the Philadelphia Art Commission the final say on any change to public art like the Rizzo statue.

But nothing will happen until 2020 or 2021, as the city works on budgeting, proposals and contracts to rework Thomas Paine Plaza, following similar projects to revitalize Dilworth Park next to City Hall and JFK Plaza, a.k.a. LOVE Park, across the street. The Rizzo statue move will be part of that work.

By then, Kenney's bid for a second term next year will be in the history books. Is that a factor of cost, or political convenience?

Kenney said it would cost the city $200,000 to take down the statue now and store it until a new location is determined. And he cast the one-ton statue as a small thing on his agenda.

"Of all the issues on my scale of important things to do, this is not even in the top 100," he said.

Rizzo's son, former City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., thinks Kenney is pushing off the controversy until it can cause him no harm.

"I think this is all about politics," he said.

Rizzo, who helped raise the money to install the statue at the conclusion of the Mummers Parade on New Year's Day in 1999, said it should stay where it is.

"My father wasn't the mayor of South Philly exclusively," he said. "I don't understand why any redo of Paine Plaza can't include a statue that has been there for a long, long time."

Speaking of Frank…

The Kenney administration on Thursday also issued a verdict on the mural of Rizzo overlooking Ninth and Montrose Streets in South Philly's Italian Market: It can stay as long as someone else pays.

A spokeswoman for Kenney said repeated vandalism of the mural "has made the cost to care for it too great a burden on taxpayers." So the city has asked Mural Arts to continue to maintain the three-story artwork while private funding is sought to pay for future costs.

Mural Arts will also "install signage noting that the mural has been a source of controversy, while also recognizing the role of public art to be a catalyst for reflection on our past and dialogue about our hopes as a city for the future of Philadelphia," the mayor's office said.

The mural, created in 1995, is Philadelphia's most commonly defaced piece of public art.

Before feud with Jay-Z, Kenney got free tickets to his Made in America festival

The summer of 2017 was a simpler time — for the relationship between Mayor Kenney and Jay-Z, anyway.

That was before the Kenney administration revealed that Jay Z's Made in America festival had to move from its usual location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And before Jay-Z said in response that Kenney had "zero appreciation for what Made in America has built." And before Kenney ultimately did a 180 and decided the event actually could stay on the Parkway.

Before all that, Kenney got $1,875 worth of tickets to the Made in America music festival during Labor Day weekend in 2017.

Kenney listed the tickets as a gift in his statement of financial interests filed earlier this year.

Clout asked the mayor's spokesman, Mike Dunn, if Kenney gave the tickets away — or soaked up the sun at the fest himself.

"The mayor had 15 tickets. Each was priced at $125," he said. "He gave them to family and friends. He himself did not attend."