Some lines full of pilgrims hoping to squeeze into the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for Sunday’s papal Mass were hours long.
The backlog of those headed for the security screening occurred even though preliminary estimates show the expected crowd of up to 1.5 million people did not materialize for the Mass.
Still, Mayor Michael Nutter called the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia and an accompanying litany of events a success.
With about a dozen people standing behind him at a Monday morning news conference, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was the only one to answer questions during the papal visit post-mortem.
An official crowd estimate is not ready, he said.
“I’m pretty sure, on numerous occasions, I probably said somewhere in a range from a million to a million and a half,” he said. “That, of course, is based on a number of previous events … ultimately whoever comes is the group of folks who come.”
He acknowledged that some people waited hours to go through security screenings.
“There were two particular points, checkpoint areas, that seemed to experience heavier volume than some others,” Nutter said. “The Secret Service, I know, sought to address those issues and also made some other adjustments to get other people in.”
David Beach, the Secret Service agent in charge of the agency’s Philadelphia office, attended the briefing but would not comment on Nutter’s statement.
The mayor also said even those who turned away in frustration had the opportunity to see the Mass on the massive video screens stationed around the city and outside the security checkpoints.
“You will reach a point, even if it was perfect, where no one else can physically get into that space they have got to make some alternatives,” he said.
Nutter insisted the intense security measures were necessary.
“I didn’t set the number of checkpoints,” Nutter said. “That’s the expertise and safety of the Secret Service. A lot of people did get through, there’s only so many people that can fit though the most secure area and, as best I could tell, it was full.”
Although the restrictions were upsetting to many, he said, they were necessary.
“An event of this magnitude and size and the volume of people necessitated having a certain level of restrictions, which you will see for any large outdoor event,” he said.
With no official crowd estimate ready, preliminary guesses have been hovering around 800,000.
Nutter blamed the media at least in part when talking about a lower than anticipated turnout.
“I think the reporting on any number of aspects of this was detrimental to the mindset of many Philadelphians and others. I think that, in some instances, you all scared the s— out of people with some of the stories.”
Just three arrests were reported in the “traffic box” over the weekend, Nutter said — one DUI, one probation violation and one person who tried to bring a large stash of illegal drugs through a security checkpoint.
A full review of the weekend’s event is planned, Nutter said, that could help the city prepare to host the Democratic National Convention next summer.