"I don't like all this 'New Rizzo' baloney," said the hulking, ham-handed figure of a man, bouncing up from his desk with that take-on-the-world swagger of the beat cop he once was, 40 years ago.
Where could that poppycock have come from? he wondered, with a mock menacing glance toward four senior campaign aides stationed nervously on a couch. They immediately denied parentage. Must be the media then, everyone agreed.
Well, let's set the record straight, he barked out to his audience--two reporters summoned for a preview campaign showing. This is the same old him; a little wiser perhaps, maybe a trifle more disposed -- this offered with a sly half-smile -- to heed some advice he picked up the other day: "Don't fight 'em anymore; hug 'em to death."
Frank L. Rizzo, a.k.a. the Cisco Kid, Supercop and the Big Bambino, battle trim at 250 pounds, retirement-weary at age 62, and fully recovered from the psychic wounds of his thumping defeat in a 1978 campaign to remove the city charter's limit of two successive mayoral terms, is on the comeback trail, this time armed with . . . hugs.
But next month, when he is expected to launch formally his third campaign for mayor, the terrain will be unfamiliar on two fronts.
He will be the underdog.
To a black man.
There is no small irony in this. Race has been at the heart of the matter in Philadelphia politics for better than a decade. A lot of critics think it was Rizzo who helped stir the pot, reigning over the city as police commissioner in the 1960s and mayor in the 1970s in the mode of a redneck southern sheriff.
It was out of their anger at being frozen out of the City Hall power game during the Rizzo years that blacks here fashioned their community into a potent, independent force in city politics, capable of delivering a vote when and where it counts. And even though they make up just 38 percent of the population of a city where racial issues forever rub raw, they sense that 1983 will be their year.
Their analysis goes this way: The mayor's office is being vacated next year by William Green, who has decided that one term is plenty. So there will be no incumbent to topple. The Rizzo candidacy will guarantee a big black turnout, and the presence of another leading white candidate will split the white ethnic rowhouse vote. Presto!
Rizzo listened to this and grew impatient.
"Divisiveness is passe," he said. "People don't believe the tripe" that he exploited racial fears for political gain.
"It doesn't take an Einstein to know that the issues of the 1980s are different from the issues of the 1970s," he continued. Back then, emerging from the urban unrest of the 1960s, he was all law and order. Now he will be all "jobs, jobs, jobs."
He contended that whatever the times demands, he is respected as a leader by everyone, even blacks, from whom he expects to pick up a hidden vote.
The role model he has in mind, of course, is Alabama governor-elect George Wallace, reaching out late in life to a constituency that had always regarded him as the enemy. But he will have to overcome far more daunting obstacles than Wallace did.
The largest is named W. Wilson Goode, 44, the black running for mayor. Goode's resume reads as though it came from central casting: sharecropper's son, neighborhood leader, housing expert, church deacon, confirmed workaholic, for two years chairman of the state Public Utility Commission and for the past three the city's managing director, the highest and most powerful appointive office in the city.
Early polls show that in a three-way Democratic primary between Goode, Rizzo and former city controller Thomas Leonard, a onetime Rizzo protege now possessed of an independent streak, Goode has a lead of 12 to 15 points over Rizzo and more than 30 points over Leonard. Goode maintains the same edge over Rizzo in a head-to-head showdown.
The politicos wonder, though, whether Goode has anywhere to go but down. He has never run for office; his personality is as cool and flat as Rizzo's is bubbling and expansive.
"Goode is at his peak right now," one Rizzo adviser said.
Still, the numbers have the Rizzo camp worried. They had originally planned to launch the candidacy at a fund-raiser last week that raised about $400,000, an enormous one-night haul by local standards. Rizzo has decided to postpone his formal announcement until next month.
The delay has produced speculation that he might pass up the spring Democratic primary in which blacks would constitute 42 percent of the registered vote and wait until November to run either as a Republican or Independent.
"Rizzo needs those 200,000 white Republican votes," one campaign consultant said. About one-fifth of the city's 1 million voters are Republicans.
But Rizzo insisted that he will be a Democrat. When Leonard jumped into the primary last month, Rizzo saw a young upstart -- and an ingrate by his lights -- trying to back him out of the Democratic race. That got him angry.
"He's playing chicken with the wrong guy," the ex-mayor sneered. "Frank Rizzo has played chicken with guys with guns."
So the betting is that Rizzo's machismo will keep him in the in the Democratic primary. If so, his chore will be to hang onto the Catholics, cut his losses among the blacks and woo back the Jews.
Rizzo had the swing bloc, the Jews, in 1971 and 1975, when his law and order appeal was at its peak. He lost them, however, over the course of his eight rough-and-tumble years as mayor, years in which he was pilloried by the press and by his political opponents as a race-baiter, a raw patronage don, a condoner of police brutality and a blunderbuss chief executive who soured the city's relations with the state and federal government.
The hard, unsentimental view of Rizzo's current prospects is that he has been around the track too many times to be repackaged (whether he calls it that or not). "He has 100 percent recognition and zero undecided," said one campaign consultant who argued that Rizzo's base is 30 percent of the city's electorate, with no room for growth.
But even those who recognize Rizzo's problems agree that there is one current that could yet sweep him back in City Hall: The fear in white, rowhouse Philadelphia of a black as mayor.
Goode's personality -- managerial, precise, humorless and low key to the point of dullness -- may help allay some of those fears, much as Tom Bradley's bland bearing may have helped to elect him mayor of Los Angeles. But Philadelphia is not L.A.; the racial mix is more even and as a consequence, whites see blacks as more of a threat.
Goode believes, as Rizzo does, that their campaign will not split strictly on racial lines. Goode expects to get 25 percent of the white vote.
Not just because he has appeared before 500 community meetings in the last three years. Because, however unready rowhouse Philadelphia may for the dawning of Wilson Goode, he thinks it is even less prepared for another round of the Cisco Kid.