Mayor on Pope’s Visit: I’m The “Cheerleader in Chief”
At the ninth papal visit press briefing of the year this morning, Mayor Michael Nutter attempted to assuage city residents’ fears and exasparations about Pope Francis’ visit in 10 days. He called himself the “cheerleader in chief.”
“Our entire city is hosting Pope Francis, not just one section,” Nutter said. “When you watch the national news coverage, no one reports that Center City is where Pope Francis is visiting.… Philadelphians of every religious persuasion as well of those with no particular religious beliefs, ought to be excited.”
City officials (and media coverage) originally painted a crush of people coming into Philadelphia as overwhelming. Now, hotels are slashing prices in the wake of vacancies, and there is concern people may have been scared away.
The mayor says he wants Philadelphians to attend. “Some people will decide, ‘I want to go down the shore,’” he said. “Some people will just decide to watch on TV. I’m not going to drag people out of their houses and say, ‘Yo, you gotta go.’”
The press conference today also addressed, for residents, some changes to city services over the weekend of the pope’s visit. Philadelphia police will be working 12-hour shifts starting at midnight and noon, as well as “super shifts” from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. “We will have more resources at night, which is when we have most of our crime problems,” Police commissioner Charles Ramsey said.
Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said firefighters already work 12-hour shifts. The fire department would add 10 additional medics (for a total of 60) and have two additional engine ladders on-call for the event. “What I am happy to say is we will be providing the same level of service outside the box that we do on a daily basis,” Sawyer said. “I’m confident we’ll be providing the same level of service throughout this whole incident.”
Nutter added that the city will have units from Streets, Water, PGW, and L&I on standby all weekend for any incidents. Parking restrictions have also been loosened. Those with parking permits for zones 1, 4, 5, 6, 10 (i.e. Center City) will be able to park in any other zone from next Tuesday, the 20th, to the following Tuesday, the 28th, at 8 a.m. Those with questions are asked to call the PPA help line at 215.222.9100 for more information.
The mayor responded to a question about the closure of the Schuylkill Expressway as a matter of logistics. “The Schuylkill Expressway would be a parking lot… there are a lot of ways to get to South Philadelphia,” he said. “C’mon. It’s two days, on a weekend. Do you have people literally stranded on the Schuylkill Expressway for hours, where you can’t use four exits — there aren’t a lot of great options here.”
Despite the grumbling about routine disruptions and transportation troubles during the event, Nutter says he expects everything go so smoothly.
“We want residents in our city and region to be ready to welcome Pope Francis,” he said. “This is an incredible time for our city, our region, and our nation. We’ll talk about the time Pope Francis came to visit for generations to come. Let’s take a deep breath and savor the moment.”