On Pope Visit Costs, Mayor Nutter Insults Our Intelligence One Last Time

Taxpayers get an $8 million tab … and a bunch of spin from the mayor.


So this is how Mayor Nutter is going out: By insulting Philadelphia’s intelligence.

We were going to have a sour taste in our mouths anyway after discovering in today’s Inky that taxpayers will pay $8 million in costs associated with the September visit of Pope Francis to the city. Most of us had understood that the costs of the visit would be borne by the World Meeting of Families.

Turns out there were some caveats.

“There is always a distinction between what the organization pays vs. what is a part of the normal city responsibility and obligation when we have an event,” the mayor said this week. Funny: Nobody was emphasizing those distinctions ahead of the visit.

Oh well. Maybe chalk the expenses up to promoting the city: Mayor Nutter certainly does. We performed well on the international stage, even if it didn’t turn out to be quite the economic bonanza that many in the business community were hoping for.

If the mayor had stopped right there, we’d be irritated, but not overly so. Instead, he continued with this:

“We were very mindful of the last visit,” he said, referring to controversy over city expenditures for an altar for the 1979 visit by Pope John Paul II. “So none of our resources went to religious-affiliated aspects.”

Oh, c’mon.

I understand the mayor is probably being hyper-specific here — probably to avoid the kinds of separation of church-and-state lawsuits that occurred when Pope John Paul visited in 1979 (and which were threatened this time around).

But let’s not fool ourselves: Every dime the city spent on the pope’s weekend was “religious-affiliated,” even if taxpayer money didn’t go to the overt, Rizzo-esque extremes of building an altar. The pope is a religious figure — and, technically, a head of state, but he wasn’t negotiating treaties in Philadelphia — and the crowds that came to see him were religious crowds on religious pilgrimages, celebrating a very, very religious weekend.

Nothing wrong with that. But let’s look at some of the supposedly non-religious costs:

• $19,000 to provide temporary short-term accommodations for 200 homeless through the Office of Supportive Housing.

• $56,000 for towing services and fleet fuel

• $1.3 million for medical supplies and barricades

Those homeless people? Moved from the parkway to make room for Mass. Towing services? Needed to clear cars from the streets inside zones where the pope was traveling. Medical supplies? On hand for people who might need help … while attending religious events. Every bit of it was religious, and everybody knows it.

The problem with this linguistic slipperiness is that it conforms to Nutter’s pattern throughout the planning and aftermath of the papal visit. People getting panicky about security requirements for the visit? It’s the media’s fault. Restauranteurs angry because they were left with refrigerators full of unsold food? Maybe they shouldn’t try selling fancy stuff to simple pilgrims.

The mayor didn’t do a particularly good job of communicating through the process. But he routinely blamed somebody else for the problems in that communication. The assertion that “none of our resources went to religious-affiliated aspects” just seems like more of the same: An inability to deal straight with the community about the drawbacks of the pope’s visit.

A lot of good things happened to and in Philadelphia under Nutter’s watch. Observers have been perplexed why he doesn’t seem to get more credit. His handling of the pope’s visit — a triumph, partially undermined by bad communication — probably gives us a clue.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.