September 28, 2015
In a press conference Monday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter lauded the government’s handling of Pope Francis’ visit to the city for the World Meeting of Families over this past weekend.
While he didn’t have a final tally of just how many thousands of people filled the city during the papal visit, the mayor said the pope’s visit was a success, especially for the throngs of visitors that came to see the pontiff.
“They came, they saw and they experienced Philadelphia at its best,” he said.
While the city was still working to clean and clear the Ben Franklin Parkway after the event, Nutter noted that all highways and the Ben Franklin Bridge had been reopened.
“It does take some time to get all of that back to its place,” he said of Parkway clean up efforts.
Over the weekend, when close to a million people had streamed into the city, Nutter said the Philadelphia Police only made three arrests and they were for minor offenses: a DUI, a drug possession and one individual who was arrested because of an outstanding warrant.
Also, he said, SEPTA handled the influx of pilgrims well, with regional rail moving about 25,000 people in and out of the city on Saturday and another 34,000 people on Sunday without a problem.
The mayor also said there were about 5,300 uses of Indigo bikes on Sunday alone and throughout the event, while Wawa delivered over 250,000 free bottles of water to thirsty travelers.
In addressing security measures that were taken throughout the event, Dave Beach, special agent in charge of the event for the Secret Service, said the papal visit was the largest national event for the Secret Service in the history of that agency.
Overall, Beach said, making sure the papal visit was safe and secure took cooperation of 71 agencies to make it happen.
"It took a lot of cooperation between a lot of agencies," he said. "The security planning was absolutely instrumental in the success of the event."
However, while Nutter celebrated the positive aspects of the weekend, when confronted with questions about visitors complaining of waiting more than four hours to get through security checkpoints - and still not getting through in time to see mass on Sunday - or concerns that pre-papal visit security worries may have kept people from coming to the city over the weekend, Nutter initially blamed the media for overhyping the event.
"In some instances, you all scared the sh*t out of people," he told the gathered media.
The mayor later clarified that, prior to the event, the government could have been clearer with the information that was shared.
"I'm sure there are a number of things that we could have tried to do differently," he said. "We can always do a better job."
Related Article: Center City restaurants mostly empty during papal visit
Nutter said the Secret Service needed to ensure the safety of the pope as well as all of the visitors in attendance and said that security moved smoothly at all but two - though he didn't say which - security checkpoints throughout Sunday.
"The U.S. Secret Service was doing everything it could to move people along," he said.
Local business owners and restauranteurs over the weekend said the massive security hurt their business during the papal visit when customers did not materialize as expected.
The mayor said that for an event the size of the pope's visit, some inconvenience may have been necessary.
"Yes, there will be some inconvenience from time to time," Nutter acknowledged. "I can't control what people do."
Nutter discussed some of his favorite moments of the weekend, noting the pope using the same lectern that President Abraham Lincoln had used when he deliver the Gettysburg Address and seeing the pope emerge from the plane in Philly as highlights.
But, he said, the moment when he saw his mother tear up when she was given front row seats at Sunday's papal mass was the most memorable event of the weekend.
"To be able to give that kind of joy...," the mayor said. "That was just the most special moment of this entire experience."
Donna Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families also applauded the city's management of the pope's visit, saying the "lack of problems" at the event, "was so gratifying to see."
"I was there and it was phenomenal," she said. "This was an incredible experience for all of us and we can't thank the City of Philadelphia enough."