The Man Who Closed A City
By Richard Carreño
[WC News Service]
Let's set aside the security excesses.
There were of course, many during Pope Francis' pop-in in Philadelphia last weekend. Too many.
Let's even move beyond, for the moment, the gross municipal incompetence in planning Francis' visit here, though Mayor Nutter and his crew had more than six months to strategize the event. Details regarding the occasion were always confused, opaque, and contradictory. And usually wrong.
Somehow Nutter got it in his head that more than 1-million, even 1.5-million attendees would arrive. The overly-optimistic figure was pulled out of thin air. It became fixed and operative. And, eventually, it helped lead to the various cock-ups that ensued.
But it was Nutter's favourite number, and one he insisted upon. A record number that would result in the biggest event in Philadelphia's history. On his watch. In the closing months of his mayoralty.
Nutter, an ardent Roman Catholic, was enthusiastic. Optimistic. Wishful. And, not surprisingly, wrong.
Sunday's Mass, the largest weekend event, drew about one hundred fifty thousand people, according to an unofficial estimate released today. Nutter conversely said at a press conference today that about eight hundred thousand showed up, and went on to berate the press for a lower attendance than he predicted because the media 'scared the shit' out of the public.
First came Nutter's twisted 'invitation' to the weeklong Catholic World Council on Families meeting, the run-up conference to the pope's visit: 'Prepare as if this were a severe weather event.' 'Prepare to walk miles.' Indeed, he announced these menaces almost with glee.
Septa announced that it was curtailing service. Stations were slated to be closed. Then changed its mind. Special fare cards were issued. By lottery. The lottery website crashed. Then when the cards were sold at some stations (no one knew initially at what stations), and by then the public wasn't buying. Septa, snafu. Nothing new there.
Nutter announced camping in Fairmount Park. Later thought better of that.
Street closures. Highway closures.
The Ben Franklin Bridge was blocked to vehicular traffic.
No parking was enforced. Cars were swept up and seized for violations.
Eight-feet high fencing was erected to create an impenetrable 'Traffic Box' on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Other fencing created additionally blocked downtown streets.
Checkpoints were established. TSA agents were deployed.
So was the National Guard. On every street corner in Centre City.
The list goes on.
Hotels had rooms begging.
Restaurants expected empty tables.
Shops simply decided to close.
The city would be under unofficial martial law.
With such doom and gloom, the weekend was rebranded, in recent weeks, as the 'Francis Festival.' It was too late. The damage was done.
As for that positive economic impact that Nutter predicted? Don't count on it.
Oh, yeah, that $12-million, according to Nutter, that the Catholic Festival group is supposed to reimburse the city. Yes, I suppose Nutter expects that we believe in fairies, as well.
All bad, right?
Of course, gross stupidity and dysfunction is what we have come to expect from Nutter and his City Hall Politburo of morons, idiots, and useful fools.
But in closing and locking down the city, Nutter permitted something much worse, instigating in fact something much worse than his usual mischief. On behalf of a religiously-oriented event, Nutter violated our civic and constitutional rights. Was the Secret Service, the agency that devised the Draconian measures, party to blame? Of course. But it was Nutter, as our chief elected municipal magistrate, who let us down. He betrayed all Philadelphians.