Picture this: Congressman Bob Brady, who chairs Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, tells a reporter that Mayor Michael Nutter offered him a corrupt political deal in a hotel men’s room.
Nutter calls Brady a liar, and the Daily News convinces both men to take a lie detector test. Brady passes, Nutter doesn’t, and the paper runs a cover photo of the mayor strapped into a polygraph with the headline, “Nutter lied, tests show.”
That was Philadelphia in 1973, when Mayor Frank Rizzo got into just such a dispute with party chairman Pete Camiel. Both men took polygraphs and the Daily News got the kind of front page a tabloid editor dreams of.Old Philadelphia hands remember this tale, but here’s the crazy part: it just happened again. Sort of.
Another Rizzo, another polygraph
In the current edition of Philadelphia Magazine, Simon Van Zuylen-Wood wrote about former City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr.’s plans to run for mayor next year, and in the process sparked another Rizzo lie detector test.
When van Zuylen-Wood asked political consultant Neil Oxman about Rizzo’s chances, Oxman insisted Rizzo Jr. wasn’t a real candidate, that he was being put up to it by Rizzo’s old adviser Marty Weinberg to boost the chances of another candidate, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.
And, Oxman said, he’d pay $10,000 if Rizzo Jr., the son of the former mayor, could pass a lie detector test.Rizzo accepted immediately.
“I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t blink,” Rizzo told me. “I’m not going to give up a year of my life [as a candidate] just to be helpful to someone else.”
PhillyMag set up the test, Rizzo passed, and Oxman paid.
“I think it was really brave of him to do it, and I sent the check even before he took the test,” Oxman told me. “I would never renege on something like that.”
Rizzo said he was “happy to take $10,000 of Neil Oxman’s money” and would put it toward the maintenance of his father’s statue in front of the Municipal Services Building.
The statue’s shoes are looking a little tarnished, he said, and that’s something Frank Rizzo would never have tolerated.
It was fine work by van Zuylen-Wood, but I can’t resist pointing out a couple of small errors in the PhillyMag treatment.
The article inaccurately describes the 1973 Rizzo-Camiel dispute as centering on a contract Rizzo gave to a city councilman in return for his support. Camiel wasn’t a councilman, and Rizzo was offering to let him name vendors for some city contracts if Camiel would support his candidate for district attorney. (Van Zuylen-Wood told me a fact-checker somehow wrote the error in.)
And editor Tom McGrath says in his column up front that after Rizzo left office in 1980 he tried two comebacks, in 1987 and 1991. Actually there were three. He also ran against Wilson Goode in the 1983 Democratic primary.
Such slips are understandable on a story like this. These events predate the Internet, and “seasoned” guys like me still carry vivid memories of the Big Bambino.
Once Rizzo left office, he ran in every mayoral election he was legally eligible for until he died. If he were alive today, I have no doubt he’d still be trying.
And if getting another Rizzo into the mayor’s race gives us more stories like this, I have to say that holds some appeal.