Today my guest is Timothy J. Lombardo, a native Philadelphian who when it came time to craft a doctoral dissertation decided to write what he knew about. And Tim knows Philadelphia, as his book Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and the Rise of Populist Politics makes abundantly clear. It’s not a biography of Frank Rizzo–cop, Police Commissioner, two-term Mayor of Philadelphia–but an exploration of those people to whom Rizzo appealed.
Lombardo can write about what those people thought, and what they saw in Frank Rizzo, because of the sources the used. We don’t talk about it during our conversation, unfortunately, but Rizzo got a lot–a lot–of letters, and these have all been preserved in the collection of his papers. They offer an opportunity to see how blue-collar Philadelphians thought and felt about what was going on in their city. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without such sources, Lombardo couldn’t have written about his book.
In the end, of course, the book is about much more than Philadelphia. Lombardo makes a very persuasive argument that what in Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia, particularly the lower-class rage against elite opinion that was a feature of that era in the city, is now a pervasive part of American political culture.
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