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Philadelphia Is Angry at the Washington Post for Insulting Its Papal Preparations

Photograph by f11photo via Shutterstock.

Just as Washington is gearing up to host Pope Francis later this month, officials in Philadelphia are making their own preparations for the papal tour. Those plans caught the attention Sunday of the Washington Post, though DC’s paper of record came away a bit skeptical that Philadelphia is fully equipped to welcome the pontiff.

While Washington’s plans are, so far, dull and procedural, Philadelphia, which unlike DC will host an outdoor public Mass, is in a frenzy, the Post reported. Expecting mothers are pondering whether they should induce labor in time to catch Francis’s visit! Chic restaurants in Center City don’t know if the Pope’s extensive security apparatus will allow them to receive produce deliveries! Parishoners from—gasp!—New Jersey are going to camp out in the zoo!

But the coup de grâce from Post reporter Frances Stead Sellers came in this line: “Whether it overdoes or underdoes the papal preparations, Philadelphia risks reinforcing the notion that it is a second-rate stopover between Washington and New York City, both of which will host His Holiness and appear to be taking his arrival in stride.”

Philadelphia, like many cities, suffers from a massive inferiority complex, and “second-rate stopover” struck a nerve with Philadelphia Citypaper writer Dave Warner, who strikes back at Sellers with a pugilistic column today about all the ways he belives Philadelphia is better than Washington.

“In our game, the reporting and writing game, facts matter,” Warner writes. “First off, we’re bigger than you are.”

Warner also makes an issue of the “cradle of liberty thing,” as if hosting a small political convention in 1776 is somehow germane to a city’s ability to manage a 21st-century papal visit that will bring in thousands of diplomatic, security, and media personnel, to say nothing of hundreds of thousands of worshippers. He notes that Washington, not Philadelphia, is “more reviled on the national stage,” surely a nod to the fact that it would be strange if presidential candidates aligned their campaigns against Pennsylvania.

Other Philadelphians sounded off on Twitter.

In an email, Sellers writes that Warner, in his rage, missed a few details. “Since ‘facts matter’ to Mr. Warner, we should let him know that I don’t actually live in DC or even in its suburbs,” writes Sellers, who lives in Baltimore.

She also suggests that Warner shouldn’t take it too personally, but that there are characteristics of Philadelphia that might make it less friendly toward mass events than DC.

“I’m a fan of Philadelphia,” she tells Washingtonian. “I’ve lived in Powelton Village and close to the Italian Market. But many of the things that make it fun—rowhouses, restaurants, and theaters downtown—also make it more of a challenge to manage security than in a government town, large parts of which close down on weekends.”

But Warner prefers to remain combative. “Every day, hour after hour, well into the night, people arrive in Philly to run the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” he writes in his column. “Why? Because they get a piece of the Rocky dream while they huff and puff up that long flight of steps.”

So functions Philadelphia’s inferority complex: Compare it negatively to Washington, and its residents will strike back by invoking a frequently relocated statue that was created as a prop for the third movie about a fictional boxer created by a New York actor. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a city invoking pop culture to rename landmarks, especially public stairways.)

Reached by phone, Warner says he was moved to write his column because he feels Sellers’s description of Philadelphia “had no class at all.” But Sellers is willing to settle the beef: If Mr. Warner is suggesting a race up the Rocky Steps, I’m game.”

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.