Will the security measures for Pope Francis' arrival scare off visitors?
Closing the Ben Franklin Bridge and setting up a perimeter closed to cars are just some of the precautions.
WITH THE city's official announcement yesterday about bridge closures, traffic boxes and other security measures for Pope Francis' arrival next month, the Twittersphere was dripping with sarcasm.
During his news conference, Mayor Nutter proclaimed: "We will be ready." To which one person on Twitter replied: "For the pope or Godzilla?"
All jokes aside, the extensive buildup raises the question: Is a city supposedly known for its hospitality - brotherly love and all that - gearing up to welcome people in, or to keep people out?
Philadelphia has a history with this sort of thing. In 1976, in preparation for the much-anticipated Bicentennial celebration, then-mayor Frank Rizzo went all paranoid, warning of violent "leftist" demonstrations and calling for 15,000 federal troops to keep order. The troops didn't come, but as the punchline goes, neither did the people.
People stayed away in droves, thanks in large part to Rizzo's propaganda. The mayor was roundly criticized, and Wilson Goode used the episode to attack Rizzo in a mayoral election 11 years later.
This time, no city official has discouraged visitors from coming, but shutting down the Ben Franklin Bridge from Friday night until Monday at noon - good luck, South Jersey commuters - telling the elderly and infirm to be prepared to walk "at least a few miles," and closing several SEPTA and PATCO stations don't seem like a welcome mat.
Upper Darby top cop Michael Chitwood, who was a member of the Philadelphia Police Department during the botched Bicentennial, said of preparations for the papal visit, "In my 51-year career I've never seen anything like it."
"This is a mammoth undertaking and we've still got [almost] two months of planning to go," Chitwood said. He noted that law-enforcement agencies in Delaware County have met with SEPTA officials and county bigwigs several times.
But Chitwood said the precautions are necessary, given the threat of domestic and foreign terrorism. He also said he doesn't think such measures will scare people away, even if they may inconvenience some folks.
"People who want to see the pope will come regardless," he said. "It's almost like they're going to see [someone] walking on water."
If only some of the 2 million-plus expected visitors could walk on water. It would make their entrance and exit a lot smoother.