There's an interesting bit of PR backpedaling in The St. Augustine Record this morning about the fact we invited the Pope, who did not come. City officials waited too long -- a year after I requested that the City invite the Pope (on March 13, 2013, the day of his election). Now City managers claim it was never possible. That's funny, there were headlines and news stories all along about how it was likely -- promoted by Mayor JOE BOLES (defeated for re-election by the person Stuart Korfhage called an "upstart" in his story the day after the August 26, 2014 Primary Election.
For example, on December 1, 2014, BOLES' last day in office, the Record reported "St. Augustine awaits confirmation of Pope Francis visit," stating inter alia "“There’s been no indication that St. Augustine is off the proposed itinerary,” said Father Tom Willis of the Cathedral Basilica on Monday."
Our shameless City managers have no shame about misleading people, even about the Pope.
In 2014, City Comptroller Mark Litzinger responded to my suggestion of the County Fairgrounds by lining up an adjoining 100 acre sod farm and an adjoining church (St. Sebastian). The Sheriff's Department would have coordinated security with the Secret Service and other agencies. Mosquito Control could have provided a mosquito-fee Mass site with two weeks notice and $50,000 -- DANA STE. CLAIRE well knows this because he appeared before the Mosquito Control District about arrangements.
We could have hosted hundreds of thousands of people for a papal Mass, if only our ham-handed hick City Managers and cared enough to issue a timely invitation and follow up on it.
Read my blog post from three days ago, here, "Feckless City Management's Lost Opportunity on Papal Visit to St. Augustine," stating inter alia:
Last year, our City Manager, JOHN PATRICK REGAN, P.E. and others were about to go for yet another taxpayer-funded visit to Spain. I asked REGAN and ex-Vice Mayor DONALD CRICHLOW to consider a short side trip to Vatican City to explore the possibility of a papal visit. REGAN, then-Mayor JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR. (R-PROCTORVILLE) and CRICHLOW (R-CORNEALVILLE) and their entourage did not do so.
Background: CRICHLOW rightly suggested inviting the Pope circa 2006. The detail is lost to inaccurate data and records destruction by TIMOTHY BURCHFIELD a/k/a "Sunshine violator" and his entourage -- it cannot be found yet in City minutes and ex-Clerk ALYSON RATKOVIC (REGAN's former secretary) attempted to charge me money to answer the question -- suffice it to say that CRICHLOW deserved full credit for the inspiration, never adequately followed up on by the inept City staff.
Further background: I called REGAN at 6:05 PM on March 13, 2013, the evening that Pope Francis was selected, to encourage the City to invite the Pope for our 450th. REGAN promised to get on it.
It took a year and lots of prodding, before Mayor JOE BOLES signed a letter to the Papal Nuncio, inviting the Pope, on March 13, 2014.
Why the delay: ineptitude.
In March 2014, before the letter was finally sent, 450th Director DANA STE. CLAIRE told me that because it was "a church, we have to go through the church." PRIMA DANA was wrong: the Holy See is a nation-state, and Vatican City has a U.S. Ambassador and a Papal Nuncio in Washington D.C. PRIMA DANA's lack of knowledge and research let us down.
Likewise, no Presidential or Vice Presidential visit for the 450th.
Seems like our City leaders were more interested in no-bid contracts than a Papal or Presidential visit to observe the 450th anniversary of the first Roman Catholic Mass in what is now the USA.
All hacks, off the stage.
Now read former sports reporter Stuart Korfhage's latest effort to indulge excuse making from the City of St. Augustine, here:
By STUART KORFHAGE
Pope Francis has been in the United States this past week, advocating for the poor and admonishing the destruction of natural resources.
He visited three of the country’s largest cities — Washington, New York and Philadelphia — but declined an invitation to the Nation’s Oldest City.
What if he hadn’t?
It was a somewhat audacious act when then-Mayor Joe Boles announced back in 2007 that he was inviting the pope as part of the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine.
It was obviously a long shot but has seemed less so recently.
First of all, nothing about the current papal visit was formalized in 2007. And it wasn’t even the same pope. Pope Benedict XVI was pope from 2005 until Francis took over in 2013.
So there was no way for Boles or anyone else with the city to know that a new pope would be making his first trip to America in September 2015, the same month St. Augustine was culminating its celebration of its 450th year as a European-settled, Catholic-founded city.
In other words, some things did kind of fall into place that could have made the improbable come true. It would not have taken a miracle to make a visit from the pope happen, although it might have taken one to deal with the crowds.
“You’d be measuring crowds in the hundreds of thousands,” City Manager John Regan said. “I don’t know how you’d do it.”
Dana Ste. Claire, director of the 450th Commemoration, said that while the invitation to the pope was serious, having him as part of huge events the way he’s been in other cities was not a realistic goal.
“Reality dictated that we would never be able to host him,” Ste. Claire said.
What Ste. Claire and others really wanted from Francis was a public acknowledgement of the importance of St. Augustine’s history in relation to the Roman Catholic Church. The first Mass in the New World was celebrated at the spot in St. Augustine that is now called Mission Nombre de Dios.
“We wanted him to somehow recognize the event,” Ste. Claire said. “It didn’t have to happen physically, although that would have been great.”
Because of the security and crowd control involved, Ste. Claire said there was no way that he knew of for the city to find the kind of money it would take to handle a huge public event with the pope.
“As good as our systems are, that would totally tax us out,” Ste. Claire said. “We would not be able to handle it. Logistically, it would be too much of a demand.”
In Philadelphia on Saturday, the Associated Press reported the pope’s visit “all but paralyzed Center City,” and he had similar effects in New York and Washington.
It’s hard to even fathom what would happen in St. Augustine, where the July Fourth fireworks show can gum up downtown for several hours.
Regan said he would have been open to whatever his staff was asked to do.
“If the pope wanted to come, we’d find a way to rise to the occasion,” Regan said. “If he had wanted to come, I guess we’d have to pull something out of a hat.”
If any kind of visit had taken place, it likely would have been something not announced or open to the public. Ste. Claire said he was hoping for something like a quick trip to the Mission at dawn for an official blessing.
“That wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility,” he said.
If the pope had come to the city, Regan was quick to point out that it wouldn’t really be city officials handling all the details. The king and queen of Spain came Sept. 18 and brought their own security force, and the pope would do the same.
Leading up to the 2012 election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech outside in downtown St. Augustine, and Vice President Joe Biden appeared at Ketterlinus Gym. With both events, federal security officials handled most of the issues.
“The pope is a different scale,” Regan said. “The way I look at is: I don’t think it’d be really up to us to figure it all out.”
St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary did get some attention from the Vatican, and more could be coming.
Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley was sent to St. Augustine to participate in the city’s Founder’s Day events and celebrate a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica.
Ste. Claire said the city is still hoping to get a proclamation from the pope about the 450th.
Local resident Pat Croce, owner of the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, tried to help in that department. His friend Eustace Mita was head of the committee charged with raising more than $40 million to host the pope in Philadelphia.
Mita passed on a letter of invitation from Bishop Felipe de Jesús Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine and Father Tom Willis of the Cathedral Basilica to his representative of the pope.
Ste. Claire said he was hoping they would get something that could have been read at the Founder’s Day celebration, but he said it would be wonderful to get something at any point this year.
For his part, Croce said anything that brings attention to St. Augustine’s place in history is a worthwhile endeavor.
Croce is a Catholic who will be attending an event for the pope just before he leaves Philadelphia today. Croce has also been part of the 450th celebration. He was one of the many people featured on The Weather Channel’s “AMHQ” show that was broadcast from St. Augustine on Sept. 4.
He lauded the city for thinking big and inviting Francis here.
“I just thought it was a fabulous thing,” Croce said. “Why not celebrate the first Mass in (North America)?”
Regan said that’s been St. Augustine’s style. There’s no reason not to aim high.
“We’re a little city that punches above our weight class,” he said.