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August 31, 2015

Post's short memory: D.C. had issues similar to Philly's papal visit fears

Its own reporters documented logistical, security issues at Obama's 2009 inauguration

The Washington Post poked the bear that is Philadelphia pride Sunday when its magazine published an article stating our city risks reinforcing its "second-rate" status as it prepares for the upcoming papal visit.

Sure, Philly may be up to our metres in concern about the security and logistics – mostly due to a Washington outfit, the Secret Service, that's given that city a couple of first-rate black eyes in recent months – but the folks at the Post have a short memory.

While asserting that "Philadelphia lacks experience with the crowd-drawing presidential inaugurations," the Post neglects to mention that its city has had its own problems pulling off those huge public gatherings.

As the Post reported then, thousands of visitors in the nation's capital for the first inauguration of President Barack Obama at the National Mall had a different narrative on Jan. 20, 2009: they were stuck in a tunnel for hours and hours while the nation's first African-American president made history. More on that later. 

The Washington Post piece, published Sunday, cites issues that have arisen throughout the buildup to Pope Francis' visit: from the traffic "box" and restrictions, to the SEPTA debacle, to the campaign to raise excitement levels, to whether hotels still have available rooms.

Pope Francis is making stops in both New York and Washington D.C., but Philly was selected to host the World Meeting of Families Congress, and the pontiff will host a Festival of Families and a concluding Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, an event that is expected to draw 1.5 million. 

The Post argues that with all the attention surrounding the preparations for that number, Philly may solidify itself as second-tier to the other cities:

Whether it overdoes or underdoes the papal preparations, Philadelphia risks reinforcing the notion that it is a second-rate stopover between Washington and New York City, both of which will host His Holiness and appear to be taking his arrival in stride.

The author, Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer at the magazine, implies the city's smaller population and inexperience with handling appearances by world leaders as reason that Philly is showing that it belongs a step below New York and Washington. 

Holly Otterbein from PhillyMag argues that, concerning the latter reason, almost every major city other than those two would have the same issues. 

But some of the fears that Philadelphia is preparing for were in some ways realized during Obama's first inauguration. 

For example, thousands of visitors, who had obtained tickets to the event as campaign donors, volunteers, and by simply requesting them from elected officials, were trapped in a tunnel for hours leading up to the event and ended up missing it because of the delay, the Post reported

Video shows those stuck in the tunnel singing "Lean on Me" while trapped. 

Part of the issue, the Post reported, was because people wearing bulky winter clothing were taking up to much space on the lawn of the National Mall. The Los Angeles Times also reported that people with tickets of differing statuses were misdirected, causing part of the backup. 

Another Post article following the inauguration cited three Obama donors with VIP tickets to the event that were extremely alarmed by the lack of security. The donors, who had each raised $300,000 or more, said restrictions were lax: 

One of the three said ticket checks were so lax that no one noticed when, after a breakfast for contributors, a friend whose name hadn't been submitted for a background check tagged along into a VIP room to take pictures with Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
And a half-dozen said that after a screening to sit in a ticketed area near Obama for his swearing-in, they mingled with public crowds but were never again checked for firearms or explosives. 

The Post's reporting about the security problems at the inauguration even prompted a subsequent investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.

So while the supposedly extreme measures may seem drastic, give us some slack, Ms. Sellers. From thousands stuck in a tunnel to dangerously lax security surrounding the President-elect, we certainly wouldn't want any of that to happen.