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Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

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A serious Philly history book that delves into local politics, city planning, housing reform, policing, and the people that vote for them. 

American populism comes in many flavors, none more consequential than the blue-collar white voters who brought figures like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump to the White House. In Blue Collar Conservatism, historian and Philadelphia-native Timothy J. Lombardo presents a nuanced portrait of the supporters of Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, tracing the rise of this little-understood, easily caricatured variant of American populism.

In 1971, Frank Rizzo became the first former police commissioner elected mayor of a major American city. Despite serving as a Democrat, Rizzo cultivated his base of support by calling for increased policing and opposing programs like public housing, school busing, affirmative action, and other policies his supporters deemed unearned advantages for nonwhites. Today he has become a controversial, polarizing figure in Philadelphia, and a symbol of blue collar populism whose policies continue to influence the Philadelphia landscape to this day. 

Blue-Collar Conservatism challenges the familiar backlash narrative, contextualizing the rise of blue-collar politics with the urban and economic crises of the time. Here Lombardo charts how blue-collar whites selectively rejected liberal policies based on culturally defined ideas of privilege, disadvantage, identity, and entitlement. Based on extensive archival research, this book charts the changing landscape of Philadelphia, the politics of law enforcement, school desegregation, equal employment, and urban housing: all things that created one of the least understood but most significant political developments in recent American history. 

328 pages. Paperback. 

About the Author 

Timothy J. Lombardo is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Alabama.

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