Bonehead mayors often resemble their remarks


The recent death of Frank Rizzo, former mayor of Philadelphia, reminded me once again of what Baltimore lacks:

A mayor capable of really boneheaded comments.

It is necessary for a mayor to say lame things now and again. This is so the average citizen can say: "He said that and he's the mayor? Well, then there must be hope for me!"

For example, when Rizzo once was asked about the Black Panthers, he said: "They should be strung up. I mean, within the law."

Kurt Schmoke lacks the ability to make citizens feel smarter than he is. He is incapable of talking dumb.

He did become internationally famous when he called for the decriminalization of drugs, but he could have held a press conference and said: "There is no hope, so up with dope!"

That would have made him immortal.

A few days ago, I talked to his predecessor, "Du" Burns, who is not remembered for saying dumb things. (Or smart things, either, for that matter.)

Burns did tell me he thought Schmoke was being controlled by his campaign manager, Larry Gibson, but how better it would have been if Burns had said: "Schmoke's a puppet and Gibson's the Muppet!"

Now that would have stuck in our minds and made us all feel superior.

The president of the United States has tried to set a good example. Early in his campaign, George Bush said a variety of things that had editors asking their reporters: "He really said that? Are you sure? Do you have it on tape?"

For instance, after a visit to Auschwitz, Bush said: "Boy, they were big on crematoriums weren't they?"

And at a Lincoln Day dinner in Nashua, N.H., in early 1988, he spoke about the advantages of the Alaskan oil pipeline by saying: "The caribou love it. They rub up against it and they have babies. There are more caribou in Alaska than you can shake a stick at."

Bush also had a little difficulty remembering whether Pearl Harbor Day came in December or September. (Hint: It wasn't September.)

But some elected officials refused to follow his lead. Even William Donald Schaefer lacks true boneheadedness. [Though some would argue that spending $6,569 on front doors for the governor's mansion is a sign of terminal boneheadedness, I would argue it is a sign that Schaefer never again has to run for public office.]

True, Schaefer insulted the entire Eastern Shore by comparing it to an outhouse. But he could have said: "Those people on the Eastern Shore are so dumb they couldn't pour rain out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel!"

Schaefer has always claimed to admire the late Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, but he does not bother to emulate him.

Daley never let his city down when it came to saying stupid things. "Get this thing straight once and for all," Daley said in 1968. "The policeman isn't there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder."

And Rizzo, who served as mayor of Philadelphia from 1971 to 1979, tried to compete with Daley. In 1975, he explained to a TV reporter why he gave his wife's hairdresser a city job:

"I would answer, Andrea, by saying that in any profession, even in your profession, people because they happen to be my wife's hairdresser or some fellow that I met at Palumbo's that needs a job, I never met mywife's hairdresser, but my wife one day told me that this is a man who has three children who is out of work. I would not know him if I fell over him and I gave him a job. Not because he was my wife's hairdresser, he wasn't any good to her anymore, he was no longer her hairdresser, so I hired him and I'm proud of that."

Rizzo also once tackled a subject that is so close to the hearts of many big city mayors: excellence in education.

"We need excellence in public education," Rizzo said, "and if the teachers can't do it, we'll send in a couple of policemen."

Rizzo also had a very rocky relationship with the press, something else Mayor Schmoke lacks. Schmoke, in the throes of what he thought was a heart attack, once was short with a reporter. Later, after he got out of the hospital, he sought her out and apologized profusely for cutting off her questions, saying it had been bothering him ever since it happened.

That always struck me: The guy felt bad because he might have died before answering all a reporter's follow-up questions.

Other mayors had a different attitude toward reporters.

Mayor Daley told them: "You can kiss my mistletoe!"

Mayor Rizzo in 1977 said to aPhiladelphia Inquirer columnist: "You smell like a whore. What kind of cologne do you have on?" [Nobody got to ask Rizzo how he knew what whores smelled like. That's the trouble with mayors who don't let you ask follow-up questions.]

Rizzo was also sensitive about news accounts that made fun of him for doing, after all, what only was his duty in making the average person feel superior to him. "The article attempted to portray me as a baffoon," Rizzo once complained.

And in 1973, Rizzo delivered my personal favorite, a quotation I think about often when I think about urban problems:

"The streets of Philadelphia are safe," he said. "It's only the people who make them unsafe."

So let us think back fondly on Frank Rizzo, who, as Casey Stengel would have put it, is currently dead.

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