A contrite Mayor W. Wilson Goode, fighting for his political survival, tonight apologized "for all that this city has suffered" as a result of the bloody confrontation last May with the radical group MOVE.
Goode, delivering a long-awaited television address, said citizens of the City of Brotherly Love "deserve much more" than the leadership he showed in the confrontation in which 11 died and 61 homes were destroyed.
Calling May 13 "the most tragic day in my life," the embattled mayor said, "Each day I live with its memories. I think often of the five children and six adults who lost their lives. I wish that May 13 had never happened, but it did. And I am sorry for that."
The speech, broadcast over three local television stations, was Goode's first formal response to a special commission report issued last week that harshly criticized his handling of the confrontation.
The commission, appointed by Goode, concluded he was "grossly negligent" and "abdicated his responsibilities" in the MOVE confrontation.
Goode did not directly reply to any of the dozens of charges levied against him and others in the report, which said deaths of the children in the MOVE house represented "unjustified homicide."
In a short, emotion-laden address, the mayor did offer repeated apologies for what happened and he praised the members of the commission for "their forthrightness, integrity and commitment."
"When I think of the MOVE children, I weep for them and their families," he said in a slow, somber voice. "A part of me died with those children. And to their families, and to all of us, I say I am sorry."
"To say I am sorry, for lives lost, for homes destroyed, for damage to our spirit, somehow, can never be enough," he added. "All of you deserve much more."
With Goode's approval, police dropped a bomb from a helicopter on a rowhouse occupied by MOVE radicals, igniting a fire that eventually engulfed an entire neighborhood and left 250 people homeless.
Goode, the city's first black mayor, was riding a wave of popularity at the time. But his support has eroded significantly since the MOVE commission began five weeks of televised hearings last October, and last week many Democrats said he was "dead" politically.
Tonight's speech and a news conference set for Monday morning are the first steps in a drive to revive Goode's hopes for reelection to a second term next year.
The mayor promised that he would outline on Monday changes his administration has made to make sure such an incident never happens again.
In what he called "a heart-to-heart talk" with the city, Goode said he had thought a plan to remove MOVE members from their fortified rowhouse in West Philadelphia "would work."
"We all know it did not," he said. "In trying to save lives, lives were lost. In attempting to rescue a neighborhood it was destroyed by fire."
The speech, coming at a political low point for Goode, was considered the most important of his career. The only surprises were that he waited so long to make it and that he offered little new in it.
A poll of 400 city residents taken for KYW-TV early last week after a copy of the report was leaked and given wide publicity found that 41 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Goode, a drop of 20 percentage points since October.