Mayor W. Wilson Goode turned over the first spade of dirt today for what looked like just another urban renewal site on the West Side: a square block of flattened ground festooned with beribboned wooden plot stakes and enclosed in a chain-link fence.
But on May 12, there had been 61 houses on this block that 260 people called home. On May 13, those homes were mostly charred ruins -- including the bodies of seven adults and four children -- after a police assault on members of the radical organization MOVE who were holed up in one of the houses.
The atmosphere of an otherwise routine ground-breaking was shattered near the end as two men, one of them with his hair in dreadlocks, arrived to curse Goode.
"You killed my brother. You killed my sister. You killed everybody," shouted one. He said he was a brother of MOVE founder John Africa, who some say may have died in the fire. Goode ignored the pair, and they eventually walked away.
For the most part, however, the ceremony was oddly unemotional, as this city flouts conventional wisdom in the wake of the tragedy in the Osage-Pine community: The City of Brotherly Love has not gone into hiding.
Philadelphia hosted a Fourth of July celebration featuring the Beach Boys. It launched a "Philadelphia, Get to Know Us" promotional campaign that city officials say was in the works before the MOVE crisis. It strutted as the U.S. site of Saturday's "Live Aid" African relief concert seen and heard by an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide.
"We really have absorbed this and sort of reeled from the shock . . . and gotten back to a business as usual thing. We can't see why other people are so concerned since we aren't that concerned," said City Councilman Thatcher Longstreth (R), a frequent Goode critic.
"What happened here on May 13 will forever be a scar on the city," Goode said today. But he told about 200 spectators that "out of this tragic event . . . , the people of the city found one another, and they liked what they saw. I'm convinced that we shall emerge from these tragic events in a stronger, more viable way than before."
Not everyone appeared comfortable with the price of that discovery.
"People lost their lives here," said state Sen. Hardy Williams (D), a legislator from the Osage area. ". . . Even a substantial part of the community accepting that that's all right is very disturbing."
Some of those left homeless were on hand today. These residents, now living in housing scattered throughout the city, sometimes expressed muted joy -- but little apparent bitterness -- toward Goode's handling of the crisis.
"It was a no-win situation," former Osage resident Sondra Lee said.
Nor were residents disappointed that Goode is saying that their homes may not be finished until next May -- five months later than the Christmas goal forecast earlier.
"It's more important that we have a really good home," said Lee's mother, Anne, a nurse who lived on Osage for 30 years. Rebuilding the neighborhood could cost as much as $12 million.
The latest public opinion polls, taken more than a month ago, found no significant fall-off in local support for Goode.
The mayor dismisses as "illegitimate" and "irrelevant" a self-styled "grass-roots" fact-finding probe by community activists. An 11-member official commission appointed by Goode is to begin public hearings on the controversy next month.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), whose district includes the Osage-Pine area and former mayor William J. Green have taken issue with the handling of MOVE, and Jackson has called for federal probes.
"I think there are some people nationally who for their own reasons and their own purposes will use this incident against me ," Goode said. "But I think that overall I don't sense any kind of diminution in my popularity."
The Goode-appointed panel will have to answer many questions, including why the police dropped an "incendiary device" on the rooftop bunker of the MOVE-occupied house and why firefighters allowed the blaze to burn for about an hour before turning on their hoses.