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FEATURE: “If He Stood Still, We Talked About the Harbor” says Mayor Deloach, as City Officials Wrap Up Two-Day St. Patrick’s Day Festival

Category: Local Govts & Politics

PHOTO: Vice President Pence and his wife walk in the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade on Bull Street at Johnson Square. Protest signs can be seen in the background.

Purpose of Vice President Pence’s Visit Explained by Mayor DeLoach

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal            

March 18, 2018 - The City of Savannah held a press conference Sunday afternoon to review information on arrests and other incidents during the city’s 2018 St. Patrick’s Day parade and two-day festival that ran from 10 a.m. on Fri., March 16 through midnight Saturday.

And, Mayor Eddie DeLoach answered questions about why Vice President Mike Pence came to Savannah - on the minds of many - as well as sharing thoughts on his experience of hosting the Vice President and his family.

According to DeLoach, “They (Trump and Pence) were looking for someplace to go in the South. They haven’t been there, and we’re known as a hospitable city.”

“He talked about how hospitable we were.  And, we represented ourselves well yesterday,” DeLoach. “He didn’t say anything about the protesters.”

Pence brought his wife, mother, and other members of his family. Members of the Mayor's family were also invited to meet the Vice President and watch the prayer from the balcony of City Hall.

“Savannah was on display, our people were on display. We did a great job showing Savannah at its best,” said DeLoach.  “Our City employees have been working around the clock, and I am so proud of the hard work they put in making this a great festival and keeping everyone safe.”

The Mayor’s wife Cynthia DeLoach presented Vice President Pence and his wife with two books about Savannah, as a commemoration of their visit.  “The Secret Service has a lot of rules about what can be gifts,” the Mayor added.

“I had a great time going down (and walking in the parade), and they were very well behaved," he said, of the crowd in the secured area along Bull Street. 

“He (Pence) wanted to make a statement that their administration, that they represented everywhere, and everyone, and they knew about the parade, and they knew about the people,” of Savannah, DeLoach added. The Vice President’s Chief of Staff is Nick Ayres from Atlanta, who has attended the parade. 

Former Congressman Jack Kingston, who is often a spokesperson for the Trump Administration on television news programs, is also a Savannah resident. He was invited to attend the initial reception at City Hall as the Pence’s arrived, along with his wife Libby Kingston, but did not walk in the parade.

Also invited, and attending, was Congressman Buddy Carter and his wife, and State Rep. Jesse Petrea.  No other members of the City Council, who were all invited, elected to attend. 

“Their group called, and said we’d like to come down.  I don’t care what party it is, it can only make your city look well. It puts us on another platform of what we can do, as a city,” the Mayor added.  

The visit was confirmed several weeks ago; Public Information Officer Michelle Gavin added that she began to work with “the Pence Communications team about a week and a half ago,” about when and what the public was to be told about the visit. 

The city’s management team has been clear that the security restrictions on what could be brought into the secured area of the parade route of where Pence was going to walk was controlled by the Secret Service, though there were several issues where there were mis-communications, including the band on holding signs.

On the pool video released of the reception, DeLoach can be seen talking intently to Pence.

What did he talk about with the Vice President? “They had asked about the Summer 500 program. So I started cranking on it. It’s  not just something for the City of Savannah; it’s something for the nation. I knew it was a chance for me to hammer on it. I was really pushing on the issue of the Summer 500 and the harbor,” he explained.

Was he upset about the tourists and the signs?  “A political always wants everything perfect, and that’s okay. It’s America.  I’m comfortable with what his heart is, and who he is.  But it’s their right and obligation to come out and express themselves.  We are a diverse city and we accept that, and were glad of that,” the Mayor added.

Asked about whether he made a ‘thumbs down’ sign to local protesters, he said that he had not. “It was a fist. I was excited,” he explained.

The city incurred additional expenses because of the Pence visit, but they have no estimates yet. “In reality, we’re figuring it out.  We were very frugal,” he added.

And he added, “Buddy pushed the harbor.  If he (Pence) stood still, he knew about the harbor.   Because we can’t fall behind on that timeline,” DeLoach added.

City officials then gave an update on the two young men who jumped in the river. There was also a person arrested who hit an SPD horse.

Because the Savannah Fire Dept. was positioned to be ready for emergencies, they were able to quickly get on the scene on MLK Jr. Blvd when a portion of the second floor of a local bar collapsed, sending 14 people to the hospital.  Two people were seriously injured, but Gavin had no other updates on the condition of the other 12 people.

The city received even higher levels of support than normal from the Georgia State Police, in managing the large crowd, as well as the Pence visit.

City Staff Put in Long Hours for Event, Including Through the Night

The crowd this weekend has been estimated at 500,000.  It took hundreds of City employees from several departments working through the weekend including code enforcement, fire, greenscapes, parking services, police, public communication, revenue, sanitation special events, and others, said Gavin. Some of the statistics gathered so far include:

Parking Services issued 249 parking citations on Friday and Saturday to include:54 parking in wrong direction; 24 blocking fire hydrant. 23 taking up more than one space; 10 parking in handicapped space; and 6 parking on sidewalk

Thirty-eight vehicles were towed along the parade route on Saturday. 

The City encouraged parade and festival goers to use alternative forms of transportation to access the downtown area.  Close to 13,000 passengers used Chatham Area Transit shuttles and fixed routes.

Sanitation crews finished removing trash from the parade route and festival area at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, working through the night.  Chippewa Square was again filled with litter after the parade.  The City closed the square to the public at 2 p.m. on Saturday to clean up all the debris. 

Code Compliance officers issued 500 warnings for offenses such as wristband violations, hawkers selling past festival hours, open containers, and illegal dumping.  They also issued six citations for urinating in public.

And, Savannah Police made 29 arrests on Friday and Saturday in the festival and parade area including: 7 disorderly conduct; 2 jumping in the Savannah River; 1 striking a law enforcement animal (horse); 4 underage drinking arrests (Chippewa Square)

The Savannah Police Department’s Alcohol Beverage Compliance Unit also cited 17 businesses for furnishing alcoholic beverages to a person under 21, and cited one business for over serving.  SPD’s alcohol compliance unit was assisted by a State Dept. of Revenue enhanced unit.

“Obviously, we have a problem,” said Acting Chief of Police David Revenew, in remarks at the press conference, "and we will be working on that. 

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