'WE DO IT RIGHT in Philadephia," W. Wilson Goode said proudly when he was campaigning for mayor in 1983.
That boast is in shambles today, as are 58 houses covering two blocks of the City of Brotherly Love -- and possibly the reputation of Mayor Goode, who,until the unbelievable events of last Monday, was the most doted-on city official in the country.
With its first black mayor, Philadelphia has been preening itself on the excellence of its race relations, and its growing fame as a center of civility and fine food. Suddenly, it has achieved worldwide notoriety as one of the very few American cities ever to be bombed -- and by its own police.
Goode has properly assumed responsibility for this truly awesome development. His claim that the eviction operation was "perfect, except for the fire" may take its place with the query of Mrs. Lincoln about the play she saw at Ford's Theatre. He has insisted, gratingly, that faced with the same decision, he would do it again.
Let's hope he never has the chance. He would be better advised, meantime,to go to London and talk to the resident siege experts. Londoners are old hands at dealing with violent and demented people and have worked out a formula that is worth trying.
The police move in in force. They establish a huge presence in the contested area. They bring large vans, searchlights, food wagons, communications equipment. They ostentatiously set up portable toilets. The message they convey is that they have come to stay. The corollary is that nobody is going anywhere. They say it has a subtle effect on the people inside, cutting down on their feelings of security and self- confidence.
The strategy is simple: to wait.
The besieged will eventually get hungry, the theory goes. They will surrender.
The strategy employed by the Phiadelphia police, with the concurrence of their mayor, was different. They were in a hurry. They may have thought that the MOVE forces had built tunnels which gave them an escape route, in which case they could have deployed more troops. That would have been better than what happened.
What happened has stunned the world. Not since Bernhard Goetz opened fire on his fellow passengers in a Manhattan subway has anything quite so astonishing occurred in the annals of urban America.
The first reaction was disbelief. One awed member of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, groping for a precedent among prominent hardline big-city officials, could only breathe, "Dick Daley never bombed."
Neither, of course, did Frank Rizzo, whose encounter with the same crazed cult had earned him a reputation as a racist who persecuted black Philadelphians.
Moscow was quick to cry "barbarity"; Stockholm called it "pure Clint Eastwood." Pennsylvania politicians, speechless, mumbled about the priority of "looking after the homeless."
Whatever you call it, the fact is that a bomb was dropped on an American city, on an overwhelmingly black neighborhood, with the concurrence of its black mayor. Eleven bodies were found in the rubble, including those of four children.
The question is why. What was the rush? The mayor, for over a year, had heard complaints of respectable neighbors about the filth, obscenity and violence of the MOVE fanatics and had foreborne to act. Why did he feel the nasty business had to be cleaned up immediately when it came to a head in the police standoff which followed delivery of an eviction notice.
The baffling mystery is why Wilson Goode, a cool cat in a three-piece suit, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance, a seasoned city manager, a man of storied caution and reserve, approved such an ultimate solution.
It is possible, of course, that the word "bomb" was never mentioned in the councils of the night. The police commissionr prefers the euphemistic "percussion device." It is possible that he believed the assurances that the weapon would not cause a fire.
It is also possible that he had no part in the harrowing decision to keep firefighters from fighting the blaze for 90 minutes -- the fire chief said that sniper fire made it too hazardous. Goode will have to explain to citizens who watched their homes burning to the ground why they were deprived of this fundamental city service. Water-cannon had been used earlier in the day.
Goode may have been trying to avoid any comparison with Rizzo, who in a 1978 showdown with MOVE, ordered a storming which resulted in the death of a policeman. If he had forgotten about Rizzo and decided to be himself, he might have done better. He is now a victim of the politician's mania to do something when challenged, even if it's the wrong thing; doing nothing would be infinitely wiser.