How I Got Kissed and Fired, or You Take Blago, I Had Rizzo
The most famous photo of Frank Rizzo, wearing a tuxedo with a nightstick stuck in the cummerbund.
[Frank] Rizzo was also not a typical [police] commissioner... He was boisterous and brooding, particularly to media. A biography of Rizzo, with an introduction written by future police commissioner John Timoney, recounted: "Of one group of anti-police demonstrators, he is reported to have said, 'When I'm finished with them, I'll make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.'" Wikipedia
The antics of IL Governor Rod Blagojevich sparked some bad memories of the time I put in as a cog in PA's Democratic party machine. Most notably my run-in with Philadelphia's most infamous mayor, Frank L. Rizzo. Which ultimately got me fired.
The story took place shortly after I'd barely avoided arrest during the 1976 presidential election. I started a temporary assignment as Press Secretary for Philly's new DA. He was a scumbag, part of the Rizzo Mob, as they were called. But at the time, I went where they sent me. As it turns out, I'd have been better off in jail.
Our town's City Hall is its own universe and I had many friends in the City Hall press room. Among them was 'Andi' Mitchell, a sharp, competitive reporter for NBC's local radio station -- now Andrea Mitchell of NBC Nightly News.
Another was an intense young reporter covering local politics for the Phila Daily News at the time, then Zack, now Zachary Stahlberg -- who rose to become top editor at the Daily News and vice president of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
One day I got a call from Zack asking where I went to law school. My sister is the lawyer, I told him, I went to Annenberg, remember? Oh, right, never mind, he said. I was a bit confused, but it seemed an innocent error. I thought that was that.
Boy did my Danger! radar need a tune-up.
Two days later, front page of both local papers, Top DA Aide Fired, Falsified Background. Yeah, me. But I didn't do the crime. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And had showed some spine.
There's a back story and a back room story.
The Back Story
The DA's office needed me in the job but had already filled the payroll slot allocated for press secretary with somebody's well, cousin. Or brother. A phantom job. It's called patronage.
So they did what all low life politicians in power do -- found an open position and put me in it, no matter the job description. In this case they slotted me as an ADA. Assistant. District. Attorney. A lawyer.
Two important details: I'm not a lawyer. I knew absolutely nothing about the whole illegal deception.
I was royally pissed at my cigar-chomping bosses -- and at Zack for thinking I'd participate in such a scam. He was apologetic and eager to help me redeem my reputation. So was Andi Mitchell, who knew the back room story.
The Back Room Story, Complete with Marble Bathroom
Philly's mayor Frank Rizzo was a brute and a bully with a huge appetite for the ladies. A great big Blutto who wasn't accustomed to hearing the word No. From anyone.
A week or two earlier I was in the deputy mayor's office when Rizzo walked in. I'd been around him many times, but always back in the crowd. Damn, up close he was big. Really, really big. Scary big. Did I mention he was gigantic?
He looked me up and down, took my arm in his ginormous paw and said he wanted to show me his new marble bathroom. It was a scandal at the time, built by a local contractor/major campaign contributor at an exorbitant cost and billed to the taxpayers.
Rizzo could've cared less. Power and confrontation and flipping off the media were mother's milk to him. He was constantly showing anybody and everybody that damn marble bathroom. Which is why I figured it was my turn. Plus, I'd never seen it and okay, okay, I was curious.
Again: Boy did my Danger! radar need a tune-up.
I'm not sure my feet were touching the floor as he guided me through his cavernous office into the large, shiny new bathroom. I was, if you can believe this, trying to get a look at the reputed solid gold fixtures when I realized, wait, I could be in trouble here. I'm alone in the mayor's private bathroom with HIM. Even if I scream, nobody, but nobody is gonna come help me.
I didn't get a chance to scream. He pressed me against the cold marble vanity and, how can I put this delicately ... stuck his tongue down my throat. I quite literally gagged. Which made it harder to stop him from groping me black and blue. I don't know how I found the courage, but I pushed him back. Well, you can't really push a solid brick wall, but I tried mightily, with both hands. And I started to cry. Real tears.
He stopped. Just like that. Straightened up, pinched my cheek, winked and said, "Okay beat it. I don't rape little girls." Then he walked out. After a few deep breaths and a quick peek in the mirror I followed. He was sitting at his desk, didn't even look up as I slid past him and out the door.
I was huddled in the 3rd floor ladies room, pale and shaking when Andi walked in. She caught me off guard and I told her what happened. It's not that I was a prude or an inexperienced milkmaid -- this was one scary dude. A truly disgusting man, at least to me.
Put It All Together
Apparently my less than enthusiastic response to Hizzoner, my hasty exit from his office in clear distress, my close ties to the press and my possible future actions were cause for collective concern among Those In Charge, who thought it best to get me out of the building. Discredited, to boot. And used Zack and the Daily News, plus their own dirty deed, to do it.
Andi and Zack urged me to go public ... to clear my name but also, let's face it, to give them a hell of a story. Sexual harassment was still a hazy concept back then and when I said stop, he had actually stopped. I'd been around politics long enough to know that no matter how innocent you are, if you throw mud on somebody, you're gonna get spattered too.
So I folded my tent and lived to fight another day.
That's the message I'd like to send to those recently unemployed. Don't let the bastards get you down. You will live through it. And you'll have stories to tell long after those guys are gone ... or in jail.
If you're good, you'll find another job, perhaps online. If not, start your own blog and tell those stories anyway. It's liberating as hell.
Addendum: A Way Back Story
My sister just reminded me that her across-the-street-neighbor at the time was the Rizzo friend/contractor who constructed the infamous marble bathroom! Judy (my sister) and Al's wife Trudy (c'mon, how could I make that up?) were friends, so we often went to swim in their pool.
One day we came into the kitchen for drinks to find Rizzo sitting at the kitchen table. Yikes! We were both wearing bikinis. My sister has, well, even better assets than I do.
You know that spider-fly analogy? Rizzo the Spider stared at us, virtually licking his lips. (Wait, do spiders have lips?) Then a real fly buzzed into the kitchen and hovered over the table.
Big, bad Frank Rizzo snatched that fly in a flash and then ...wait for it... gently let it buzz out the back door to safety. All this, as my sister says, "without taking his eyes off our tits."
PS Who forgot to rate? I might have to send a Rizzo goon after you...