Vice President Pence to attend St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah

Published: Mar. 13, 2018 at 11:37 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2018 at 1:48 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - With only four days remaining before the event, the city of Savannah announced Vice President Mike Pence will attend the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade - one of the largest such celebrations in the United States.

The City of Savannah made the announcement at a news conference on Tuesday morning after rumors of his attendance spread to local media outlets.

"We're very excited to have national attention on what we already know to be this wonderful St. Patrick's Day celebration,"  said Michelle Gavin, Director of the Office of Public Communications. "It's always nice to have a special guest come to the parade, and what great honor to have the Vice President of the U.S. come to this parade and shine a national spotlight on this event."

It is unknown how his visit could affect plans for area security. Sources tell us a Secret Service team is in town meeting with law enforcement to work out security details.

According to Mayor Eddie DeLoach's office, the Vice President will join the mayor in greeting parade goers.

"It's a true honor to welcome Vice President Pence to our beautiful city," DeLoach said. "We are excited to showcase our city and this parade to the Vice President and our nation. They will see what we have enjoyed for the past 194 years - the greatest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the world."

From the rooftops to street-level along the parade route, things will be much different in terms of police presence - and possibly how you enjoy the parade - especially if you're near the Vice President.

"We worked with them many, many times, and they have certain protocols that they follow, and they follow them to the letter for all the obvious reasons. So yeah, there'll probably be places along the parade route depending on where the Vice President goes, that may be somewhat restricted," said Gary Glemboski.

Glemboski is a 27-year veteran of the Savannah Police Department and worked with the Secret Service during VIP visits.

"I'll say you'll probably never know they're there. There's a level of security, especially with the Vice President coming, that people are never aware of and there are people everywhere, so people might think that they know, but they don't really know," Glembowski said.

At this point, the city isn't saying much about extra security measures, but Gavin said the city will release more information in the coming days.

"I can't release any particulars at this time about what areas are going to be more secure than other areas may be," she said. "We have been working very closely with White House staff as well as the parade committee. We've all been in meetings together to keep these things in mind. So, there's a lot of feedback that's going back and forth between the White House, between the city of Savannah and between the Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee to make sure not only the Vice President has a good visit, but also that our typical parade goers have a wonderful experience this year as well."

Business along Bay Street have concerns about logistical changes and that the trip may politicize the parade.

Bonnie Walden is the co-owner of Bay Street Blues and said St. Patrick's Day planning is a year-long event. She says a visit from the vice president is an honor for Savanah, but she isn't sure St. Patrick's Day is the time to host him. She worries how the visit will impact the regular parade-goers who set up hours in advance outside of her business and their traditions, and she's concerned Vice President Pence's presence will move the focus from the celebration to politics.

"My concern is it'll have an impact on the party itself, that it'll become more political than a party," Walden said. "Savannah has always celebrated St. Patricks' Day, and I hope all the preparations are in order. Of course, it's exciting to have the Vice President, but it's also concerning."

Political groups in Savannah are preparing to support and protest the visit.

Savannah Young Republicans chairman Stephen Plunk says Mike Pence's visit shows the celebration is a world-class event.

"It's exciting," he said. "I think that no matter what, you feel about the administration or the politics, it's obviously a big honor that the vice president has chosen to be in our city for this holiday. We're happy to have him. You  know, we're the hostess city of the south."

Savannah Democratic activist Miriam Center said the vice president is someone she wishes the city wouldn't host and his politics are exactly the reason.

"I'm very upset because I don't know who invited him," she said. "I'd like to know if the ones who invited him by into his philosophy. He's certainly not my philosophy of what life should be like. I think people all over the country will wonder why they invited him."

Gavin said she did not know who extended an invitation to the vice president.

Center thinks his visit will politicize one of the city's favorite traditions and knows of many women in Savannah planning to protest during Saturday's parade.

"We've marched here peacefully," she said. "I don't think it has to be violent, but I think that this man espouses racism and antisemitism and I don't want that in my city. I've lived too long to see that happen."

Plunk says with local and state lawmakers already in the parade, it's already politicized, but says as long as people are peaceful, they should be able to express their opinions.

"I understand there's a lot of people that aren't the biggest fans of this administration, and I think absolutely, within reason, there's plenty of room for them to get their freedom of speech in," Plunk said. "I'm sure there will be people cheering for Vice President Pence as he walks by, and there will be people jeering and booing. I think that's a great thing about this country. There's no reason people can't register their displeasure with him and his policies just as they could if they're fans of him, so I think we'll see that. And I think the vice president expects that probably as he's walking along, he'll hear a lot of opinions from both sides of the spectrum."

For some, like Walden, it doesn't matter who is the vice president. It's the fact that the office comes with a lot of extra security, and she doesn't know how that's going to impact Savannah's biggest party.

"I worry that it's going to impact the regulars that come and what they can bring, what they can't bring," she said. "I just don't know what the impact is going to be. I guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm just not convinced St. Patrick's Day is the right time of year for this to happen."

Plunk hopes the city and white house consider locals as they make security plans, and he said he thinks there are ways for Pence to visit without being too disruptive to traditional festivities.

Center says the visit will just add more complication.

"I'm staying away from downtown, and I'll watch it on television and curse him then," Center said.

Brian Counihan, Chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee, said at Tuesday's news conference he was not concerned about the visit politicizing the parade.

"We've entertained other guests - the minister from Ireland, U.S. Representatives - both Republican and Democrat, so, no," he said

Pence is of Irish descent. His grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, emigrated from Ireland in 1923 through Ellis Island in New York.

He was raised in a Roman Catholic household, but he most recently described himself as an "Evangelical Catholic."

"We are looking forward to having the Vice President, a proud fellow American of Irish descent, visit Savannah on the day we celebrate our patron saint, Saint Patrick," Counihan said. "This is a day we celebrate faith, family, and country, and remember what our ancestors sacrificed so our country can be the great country it is today."

If there's any reason other than to just enjoy the marquee event of the Saint Patrick's Day Festival weekend for the Vice President's visit, it's not being released at this time.

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