Happy Columbus Day. Yes, I said it.
Mayor Jim Kenney acted outside his authority by killing Columbus Day and declaring it Indigenous People’s Day. Contracts with city unions make Columbus Day a paid holiday, so it is “official,” while Indigenous People’s Day is not.
Should there be an IPD? Why not?
But using it to cancel Columbus Day is a calculated insult to most Italian Americans, who are told Columbus was a bad guy. But the sad truth is that indigenous people raped, killed, and enslaved one another. Yes, even before Europeans arrived.
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Sitting on his perch of self-anointed moral superiority, Kenney tried to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus from Marconi Park until he was stopped by a lawsuit filed by George Bochetto.
And this was not the first authoritarian action from woke-addled Kenney, who earlier acted outside his authority — and very cowardly — by having the statue of Philadelphia’s first Italian-American mayor, Frank Rizzo, removed in the middle of the night and carted off to a site Kenney refuses to divulge.
Yes, Columbus and Rizzo were controversial, but they should not have been canceled because of complaints and grudges by a vocal minority without a public hearing. Kenney awarded critics a heckler’s veto. That is not how a civil society — and a democracy — is supposed to work.
The majority of complaints about Rizzo, about his alleged “racism” and “brutality,” arose during his tenure as police commissioner, when, coincidentally (?) Philadelphia was one of the safest cities in America.
This is not to excuse police misconduct. But police misconduct was true before and after Rizzo was police commissioner. There were bad-conduct incidents under John Timoney, Charles Ramsey, Danielle Outlaw, etc.
But the statue of Rizzo is wearing a suit, not a police uniform. It was designed to honor him for his two terms as mayor.
After Rizzo’s death in 1991, before the statue was commissioned, then-Councilman Kenney actually proposed renaming the Municipal Services Building to honor Rizzo. So what perverse thinking led him to remove the statue in 2020?
And why didn’t the chicken-legged Kenney remove Rizzo’s portrait from among all the mayoral portraits hanging in City Hall? It’s still there. Why?
And why is the statue of slave-owning William Penn still allowed its place of prominence atop City Hall, for all the world to see? And how many city institutions are still named for Benjamin Franklin, another slave owner?
Was “racist” Rizzo worse than men who actually enslaved other human beings?
Should we judge Columbus by today’s legal and cultural standards, or by the conduct of other European explorers?
The attack against Rizzo was spearheaded by self-righteous bullhorn harridan Helen Gym, the former City Councilwoman and would-be mayor. A native of Spokane, Washington, Gym didn’t arrive in Philadelphia until almost a decade after Rizzo’s second term as mayor had ended. So she had no first-hand knowledge of Rizzo. All she knew was what she was told by her left-leaning friends and from a media that basically loathes Rizzo.
The Inquirer still makes mention of Rizzo in news stories as a racist bully as if that were undisputed fact.
It is disputed, even by some members of the black community, who remember one of Rizzo’s mayoral runs was endorsed by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity. Rizzo’s African-American friends included heavyweight champ Joe Frazier, broadcaster Mary Mason, and West Philadelphia community leader and activist Novella Williams. These were people who knew Frank Rizzo, unlike most of his critics. But they are gone.
Just prior to the statue’s removal, city Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis said the statue would be moved to a different location. No one took that to mean a warehouse.
People should be viewed in a historical context with what I call social appropriateness. Rizzo and Columbus should be viewed in the context of their times.
So here are my challenges to mayoral candidates Cherelle Parker and David Oh:
1. Restore the Frank Rizzo statue to public view.
2. Have one of Philadelphia’s excellent law schools convene a moot court for Christopher Columbus, and broadcast it on public television.
The Frank Rizzo statue does not have to return to its site in front of the Municipal Services Building. It could be “bid” on by various neighborhoods — hello, South Philly — but the location would have to be secure because the statue had been the victim of vigilante vandals in the past. Not just the statue, but the Rizzo mural in the heart of South Philly, which Mural Arts Philadelphia removed, surrendering to the fascist mob with paint buckets. Gutless MAP is dead to me now.
When the statue is brought back, a plaque would be added to Zenos Frudakis’ 9-foot bronze artwork, explaining the controversy surrounding the former mayor.
How might that look?
Like George Washington’s house on Independence Mall, an open-air pavilion that shows the outline of the original buildings with storyboards telling the story of the nine slaves in the household. It allows America to look its past in the eye, unflinchingly, and understand the embarrassing truth. A teaching moment.
The lion’s share of the credit for that improvement goes to firebrand lawyer Michael Coard and the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition. Coard opposes cancellation.
“With rare exception, I don’t support the removal of historically horrible racists’ names from buildings or institutions or the removal of statues or monuments of historically horrible racists,” he wrote.
“Instead, I support what I call subtraction by addition. In other words, the deification of those historically racist luminaries will decrease with the increase of historically factual descriptions.” Which is exactly what he accomplished on Independence Mall.
And that is what I propose for the Frank Rizzo statue.
At the very least, it belongs on public display in a local museum.
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Do I expect either Parker or Oh to take up this idea?
No, I don’t. Rizzo has been made toxic by those with the biggest megaphones.
Even though Parker is a Democratic moderate, Rizzo was a twice-elected Democratic mayor, and she is for stop-and-frisk (which many on the Left say is racist), she would not step up to do it.
If Oh did it, he’d be called “racist” by the Inquirer, whose own publisher stunningly announced last year that the newspaper itself is racist. So why worry?
If Oh could summon the grit to do it, all he would lose are the votes he would never get anyway, while he could gain the support of many in the Italian-American community, plus people like me who oppose cancel culture, woke thinking, and the undemocratic way in which the statue was discarded by political hypocrites.
As to Columbus, Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes just made reference to him as a “genocidal maniac” in a column calling for the Phillies to remove pitcher Curt Schilling from its Wall of Fame because Hayes doesn’t like Schilling’s often-awful political opinions.
People like Hayes kept Schilling out of the MLB Hall of Fame, using the so-called “character clause” as a fig leaf.
Did Schilling rape a nun? Get caught driving drunk? Enhance performance with drugs? No — he’s a Trumpster who has defended the Jan. 6 rioters and has passed along some possibly anti-Semitic social media comments. [Personal disclosure: I am Jewish.] That doesn’t change his 216–146 won-loss record, 3.46 earned run average, 3,116 strikeouts.
As I recall, Phillies great Steve Carlton had a bunch of off-the-wall ideas. Is he next? Once you start canceling, like eating peanuts, it’s hard to stop.
Back to Columbus.
He sailed for Spain during the era of conquistadors, when European nations roamed the world “claiming” other peoples’ territory for white monarchs in distant lands. Should we judge Columbus by today’s legal and cultural standards, or by the conduct of other European explorers and conquerors?
By some accounts, he was not the worst of the worst.
While most of the current opinion has been turned against Columbus, I would put him on trial, with historians on both sides presenting facts, and lawyers examining aggravating and mitigating factors.
The people of Philadelphia would be the jury: Leave the statue alone, tear it down, or amend it, as was done with Washington’s house.
In the meantime, Happy Columbus Day and Happy Indigenous People’s Day.
Stu Bykofsky’s work is published at StuBykofsky.com.