How Kenney was able to remove the Rizzo statue without additional approval

Philadelphia police officers at the municipal services building

A contingent of Philadelphia police officers stationed at the municipal services building, where protesters tried to pull down the statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo on May 30, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia used a loophole in its maintenance agreement to legally expedite the removal of the statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo last week, according to the city’s top attorney.

“The mayor wanted the statue removed immediately,” City Solicitor Marcel Pratt said during the Law Department’s budget testimony in City Council on Wednesday. “One of the issues that had always been a problem for immediate removal of the statue was that there was a donation and maintenance agreement entered into by the [former Mayor Ed] Rendell administration that required giving notice to the monument committee.”

Protesters try to take down the statue of former mayor and police chief Frank Rizzo
Protesters try to take down the statue of former mayor and police chief Frank Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building on May 30, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

That monument committee included government officials and members of the Rizzo family. The effort to remove the statue would also have to go through a hearing process with the city’s public art commission.

However, Pratt said the maintenance agreement included an exception that should the statue ever be a risk to public health and safety, it could be removed immediately. The city’s law department advised the mayor that the state of emergency and vandalism of the statue during the protests could potentially topple it and cause injury.

The statue’s sculptor, Zenos Frudakis, shared those fears when he watched television footage of the massive protests in Center City on May 30 and 31, and saw people hitting the Rizzo statue with hammers and attempting to pull it down with ropes.

Frudakis’ first worry was that the action was a disaster in the making. If that crowd had brought down a 9-foot-tall, 2,000-pound hunk of bronze, somebody could easily get killed.

Protesters attempt to take down the Frank Rizzo statue in front of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I’m relieved that the Rizzo statue will not fall on people and crush them,” said Frudakis. “I wanted it to be safely and professionally removed. I was also concerned that it might fall through the pavement.”

Saying he “never liked” it, Kenney said last Monday that he had planned to move the statue later this month.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney talked about the long-overdue removal of the statue of Frank Rizzo statue in front of the municipal services building. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

During today’s budget testimony, Councilmember Derek Green asked Pratt to explain on the record how the city justified using legal shortcuts to remove the statue even faster than the mayor originally said. Pratt said the situation with protestors required swift action.

“There was an exception if the statue posed a risk to public health and safety. If it did, we would no longer be required to give notice or allow the family to retrieve the statue,” said Pratt. “It also allowed us to damage the statue — that is, take it out in a way that does not preserve it completely. That is what we did.”

The former site of the Frank Rizzo statue
The statue of former Philadelphia mayor and chief of police Frank Rizzo was removed from the city’s Municipal Services Building early Wednesday morning amid civic unrest around the killings of unarmed Black men in the U.S. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pratt said some pieces of the statue’s base were destroyed during its removal. The statue is now in storage.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.