Stage to Page is celebrating local writers all month long by publishing their perspectives on themes related to our production of Rizzo by Bruce Graham. #stagetopageptc

 

Anastasia Hutnick is a current student at the University of Pennsylvania. She, an amateur playwright, currently works as a Program Assistant at the Kelly Writer’s House on campus.

The Commissioner, the Mayor, and the Man

By Anastasia Hutnick

Honestly, after watching Rizzo, I thought that this essay would be easy, that the man had given me so much to talk about. And he did. I filled up pages with outlines and snippets, and yet… Whenever I’d follow one thread, my head would drag me in the other direction. In one of the last lines of the play, Rizzo tells his audience that there would never be anyone else like him. He was right.

If you want to make comparisons, there are plenty to spare. When I first saw his larger than life and imposing stature – not to mention his lack of fear discussing business at the urinal – I instantly thought of Lyndon B. Johnson and his infamous “Treatment”, his methods of intimidation and persuasion. The play’s Shelly Yanoff says there’s a reason he and Richard Nixon got along so well – they had the same paranoia – “keeping a file” on their enemies. Like George Bush Sr., he learned the dangers of promising “No New Taxes.”  His belief that he could control the press, his use and abuse of his power reminded me of a Citizen Kane given a belt rather than a silver spoon. Yet… no one could say Frank Rizzo was just like any of them. He was truly his own man.

I must confess: as someone who is relatively new to Philly, and as someone who has never shared the same time on Earth with former Mayor Frank Rizzo, I didn’t know much of anything about him before the play. The first time I asked about him I heard, “He was always making these off the wall comments. You either loved him or you hated him.” The next time, I heard “he beat the crap out of people, but he was tough on crime. You knew where you stood with Frank, and you knew why.”

Regardless of what you say about him – good or ugly – the man had depth. He was a hero and a villain to many; no one could deny either statement. He would run into the fire to save those trapped inside, but he was also someone who was unafraid to break down the door, who did not have a mind for search warrants. As evidenced in the confrontation with his father, he never understood the power and the respect behind being a cop for twenty three years and never having to use the nightstick. He was someone who would send “his cops” to patrol his neighborhood after hearing a neighbor say he was threatened because he, a black man, had moved in. He was also someone who sent in the motorcycles on what had been a peaceful protest, not to mention someone who publicly strip searched the Black Panther Party in the cold streets. He was someone who would build Museums dedicated to preserving culture only to make a backhanded comment the next minute. He had a habit of making comments that knew how to rub people all the wrong ways.  He was someone who would rewrite the truth in order to keep his job. Yet, he also wanted the job to serve, not to acquire fame.

I’m not writing to excuse any of his wrongs or to hamper any of his rights. After two hours and further research, I’m trying to figure out who the man himself was and how he could manifest such a dichotomy. He was infuriating, but also on some level fascinating. I wonder if there is something to be said for that – that we all have that sort of polarity dwelling within us. We’ve all heard that we’re the heroes in some stories and the villains in others, yet how often do we confront these factors, the impact that we have on the lives of others? Frank Rizzo was larger than life in perhaps this dichotomy above all else. I feel that if I had lived in the time of Frank Rizzo – if I had met him personally or lived in what he had done; I would have felt differently; I would have found myself in the “love him” or “hate him” category. But now, try as I might, I feel like the character of the Reporter, somewhere in between, torn between the Commissioner, the Mayor, and the Man.

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