The silly season continues in South Philly. A battle is being played out in court between some very angry Italian-American citizens groups and the equally angry Mayor. The City won the last round when a federal court dismissed a lawsuit alleging the Mayor has this nasty habit of discriminating against Italian-Americans. This, by the way, is the same Mayor who is rumored to live in these parts and has a girlfriend who happens to be Italian-American. Hey — and he’s a former Mummer, too.
How did we ever get to this point? We used to be able to laugh at ourselves. But humor is in short supply between these civic groups that contain a Democratic City Councilperson, an aspiring Republican senatorial candidate and a Mayor who treats smiling like a bad habit. Court cases like this ought to contain a laugh track like the old situation comedies.
In a city ravaged by homicides, we’re fighting over the reputation of Christopher Columbus? The Mayor had nothing better to do last year but issue an executive order to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day? As Judge C. Darnell Jones II asked in words to this effect, “What’s the dif?” Kenney’s order doesn’t stop you from having a parade and gathering in Marconi Plaza. You’ll still be able to buy a glorious sandwich where the provolone sits sharply side-by-side with the roast pork and broccoli rabe. Nobody is going to stop that tenor with the magnificent voice from singing Italian arias. And if you want to, you can still call the holiday COLUMBUS DAY without the Thought Police carting you off to prison. If the Mayor were getting some good advice – which he apparently isn’t – he’d stop by the celebration and see for himself what Italian-Americans, or at least most of us, are celebrating on that second Monday in October. Italian pride. Community. All the good things we used to treasure in America.
You can rename that day Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but why? You mean there’s not another date on the calendar for that? Really? Indigenous Peoples’ Day HAS to be on that second Monday in October? Quick — please hand the Mayor a calendar!
To the angry Italian-Americans and exploitative politicians who support what they know is a losing battle. Are you sure you want to get in the weeds defending the character of Christopher Columbus? Outside of South Philly, celebrations of Chris don’t hold up so well. And labeling Columbus the first civil right leader is like honoring Didi Gregorious with a Gold Glove for playing shortstop. We — Italians — have lots of better candidates than Columbus. Down with the B.S. What are we really celebrating? Italian pride? Yes. Columbus not so much.
We all know this feud between the Mayor and South Philly Italians is about more than renaming Columbus Day. It’s also about the statues of Columbus and Frank Rizzo. Before they were discovered by the “woke” folk, the statues served mostly as luxury apartments for the city’s pigeons. While Columbus was never a big topic in these columns for the Review, Frank Rizo was – during his heyday. I did cover Rizzo during his heyday. I was as critical of Rizzo as any writer in the city. Advertisers threatened to stop buying ads in this newspaper because they didn’t like what I wrote about Rizzo. A prior owner of this newspaper told me that Rizzo was off limits as a subject. I stopped writing about him. A little background here …
My father came up on the police force with Frank Rizzo. They remained friends until Dad’s death. Rizzo was not a fan of mine. He complained about me to my father. My father’s position on my writing was, “See what happens when you send them to college.” But Jim Kenney, a mayor, who’s a South Philadelphian, should be able to negotiate with his neighbors. The Rizzo statue — and even the Columbus statue – should not be hidden away. Both belong in Marconi Plaza where they would be honored. You know why? Because when you start banishing statues of Columbus and Rizzo, you wind up hiding Kate Smith and eventually Jefferson and Madison.
A word about Kenney …
He’s stubborn, but he cares. When he was a councilmember, he answered his own phone. He was maybe the most accessible member of Council. He cared about the quality of life around these parts. Ask the prostitutes he chased back out of our area at two in the morning. But Kenney’s stubbornness leads him to some dumb actions by other folks who protest what the Mayor has for breakfast or just about anything else he does.
There’s only one thing dumber than the City placing the statue of Christopher Columbus in a box like it’s a Christmas fruitcake. And that’s some South Philly Italians claiming that Kenney discriminated against them by not prioritizing their getting COVID-19 vaccines. Apparently ZIP codes with the largest numbers of Italian-Americans were omitted from priority lists. Don’t worry, folks. Uncle Nunzi was able to get his shot, despite that evil conspiracy.
I think both the Mayor and the aggrieved ethnic groups have had better days. Kenney faced down the powerful industries that tried to stop the soda tax. In doing so, he will leave a legacy that strongly supports public education. Like the Mayor, South Philadelphia ethnic groups are passionate and proud and rightly so. It’s time for a truce. I don’t mean that by calling a truce, you have to agree on everything or even most things. But you have to respect the positions taken by the other side. You should recognize the difference between disagreement and discrimination. You have to agree to disagree.
And respect that difference.