and MICHAEL SIROLLY The Big Bambino. The Cisco Kid. Supercop. Hizzoner. During his 70 years in Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo has been called a lot of names -- some of them affectionate, and a great number of them insulting. But although the aggressive and imposing former mayor was both loved and hated, respected and feared, no one ever disputed his love for Philadelphia. And as he was pronounced dead two days ago at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, an era in Philadelphia history died with him. Rizzo collapsed in an office washroom in his Center City campaign headquarters Tuesday afternoon while preparing to eat lunch. According to a chronology of events released by the hospital, Philadelphia Fire Rescue contacted the hospital's emergency department at 1:45 p.m. to warn the unit of Rizzo's arrival. Emergency teams administered the drug epinephrine, employed a pacemaker and administered electrical countershock in their attempts to revive him. All efforts ultimately failed and Rizzo was pronounced dead of "massive cardiac arrest" at 2:12 p.m. Health problems were infrequent for Rizzo, and campaign workers said he seemed in perfect health prior to his death. Despite his age, Rizzo maintained a full schedule of campaign speeches and appearances in his most recent attempt to recapture the mayor's office. However, Rizzo will partially be remembered for campaigning from a bed in Hahnemann Hospital after he sustained injuries in a fall a month before his successful 1975 election to a second term as mayor. But Rizzo became famous, and infamous, for his periods of strength rather than his times of weakness -- a reputation exemplified by the police commissioner's 1969 appearance at a formal dinner with a billy club stuffed under his tuxedo and cummerbund. Scappo il capo, Italian for "break heads," was the phrase Rizzo once employed to describe his philosophy for dealing with criminals. But while heading the city's police department, his administration was also plagued by charges of police brutality. Rizzo's temper always flared when questioned about the use of excessive force. In an April interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Rizzo strongly decried the behavior of Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. "That set police departments everywhere back," Rizzo said. "It made my blood run cold." He also repeated faced charges of discrimination against blacks and homosexuals, accusations which he fiercely denied. "My background wouldn't permit me to be a bigot or a racist because I came from very humble beginnings and I came from parents that came here and were the victims of prejudices," Rizzo said in a 1987 interview with the DP. "Not only that, I bought my first home when I got married. The people in that neighborhood circulated a petition not to sell it to me because I was an Italian-American. OK? So I get tired of hearing that nonsense." The son of an Italian immigrant, Rizzo was born October 23, 1920, in south Philadelphia. After only completing school through the eighth grade, he went on to serve in the Navy before beginning a 28-year career as a police officer at the age of 22. It was at about this time he met the woman who would be his wife of almost half a century, Carmella, with whom he would father two children. He rose through the ranks to become police commissioner, and was known for his success in putting down riots during the turbulent 1960s. His popularity carried him through to a landslide victory as the Democratic candidate in the 1971 mayor's race. Rizzo served as the city's mayor for two terms from 1971 to 1979, when Philadelphia voters rejected his attempt to change the city charter to permit re-election for a third straight term. And in 1976, voters lauched a massive effort to oust the mayor from office when, after his re-election, he revealed a $100 million city deficit and enacted the largest tax increase in Philadelphia history. Opponents secured over 200,000 signatures in support of a recall, but the petition was rejected by the state Supreme Court. Rizzo never claimed to be a mathematician. "I get confused by figures over 100," he once said. After stepping down in 1979, he went on to run in each succeeding mayoral election. In 1983, he lost in the Democratic primary to future mayor Wilson Goode, and in 1987, after switching to the Republican party, he was narrowly defeated by Goode again in the general election. But to his friends and supporters, he was still known as "Mr. Mayor" -- a title he would once again seek this year. While his most recent bid was perceived by many analysts as just another doomed effort in a string of attempts to recapture the mayor's office, his surprising come-from-behind victory in the May primary demonstrated that he still had both a loyal following and formidible political clout. According to campaign officials, Rizzo was confident he could beat Democratic nominee Edward Rendell in November's election. It was his latest opponent who summed up the feelings of both Rizzo supporters and detractors as they reacted to news of his death. "I was shocked and saddened to hear of former Mayor Frank Rizzo's sudden death," Rendell said in a statement. "All Philadelphians, whatever their political affiliations, will feel his passing as a tremendous loss to the city he loved so much." Rizzo will go down in Philadelphia history as the mayor who often offended but never minced words, and always let people know where they stood. In a 1987 interview, however, he said that he would prefer to be rembembered for his contributions rather than confrontations. "I would like to be remembered as a man who tried and did his best and made lives a little bit better for the people that he was sworn to protect," he said.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.