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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: March 13, 2005
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

Leaving post, not projects

On her first morning as new superintendent of Independence Park — a cold and windy Monday in February 2003 — Mary Bomar made a point of showing up at the dedication of what had been a controversial archaeological dig.

The park she now headed had not embraced this project: the excavation of an African American house site on the grounds of the National Constitution Center at Fifth and Race Streets.

But Bomar understood its importance to many people outside the park. Her appearance signaled her desire to complete the dig, and in so doing, uncover a little history, cement new community bonds, and open the park to fresh ideas and voices.

Now Bomar has become interim — and potentially permanent — chief of the National Park Service's dense Northeast Region, which encompasses dozens of sites, including Independence National Historical Park, in 13 states.

What does this change mean for Independence Park, which is poised to begin a new spring and summer visitor season?

For one thing, the park she leaves is not the same park she first encountered, although some nettlesome inherited problems remain, including unfinished post-9/11 security plans, landscaping, and the commemoration of slavery and the first presidential residence.

For another, Bomar is not leaving town — the Northeast Region headquarters is in Philadelphia. Dennis Reidenbach, the park's assistant superintendent, has been named Bomar's interim replacement. He filled the same role for about nine months before her arrival.

"We've enjoyed her leadership," said Bill Moore, president and chief executive officer of the Independence Visitor Center, at Sixth and Market Streets. "We're hopeful that leadership carries over."

The major change Bomar made at Independence, say many who have worked closely with her, is not readily visible.

With her hearty personality and shrewd bureaucratic skills, Bomar has transformed the park's internal atmosphere. That, in turn, has made a variety of projects possible, according to several park players.

"For her to be named northeast regional director is a compliment to her, to all she accomplished and to her ability to work with the community," said Fran Minella, director of the National Park Service, who was in town last week to see the newly renovated Second Bank of the United States galleries and the Park Service's exhibit at the Flower Show.

Minella, of course, made the appointment of Bomar.

"Even though there have been problems with the community," Minella continued, "and security is one, you know you get straight answers from her. And we know we can't do things alone, we need to partner... . Mary is a great example of a partner-oriented person."

Ann Meredith, who runs Lights of Liberty, a sound and light show at Independence Hall, praises Bomar's personal skills.

"Mary Bomar has always been available, open and willing to try to work things out," said Meredith, also a founder of an area coalition that has criticized the park's handling of security issues. Bomar has wrought a sea change in the park's bureaucratic culture, Meredith said.

"It's nothing short of miraculous," she said. "That has gone a long way to reestablishing the... trust of the community and the support of the stakeholders."

Amy Needle, executive director of the Philadelphia Heritage Project, which will soon unveil details of its plan to put storytellers and other attractions in and around the park, said Bomar facilitated work in every way.

"This project could not have happened at the magnitude it's happening without the park," Needle said. "She's been so helpful, and that's continued on and we're working hand in hand with them on a daily basis."

Bomar said she would continue to work on the triad of major issues facing the park.

Minella, head of the park service, said officials in Washington were studying various security options.

"We will go over the proposals with Mary Bomar and will work with the community," she said. She did not say when that might be.

Reidenbach, meanwhile, said that in "the next couple of months we'll be in a position to start any public dialogue on a long-term security proposal."

As far as landscaping is concerned, he said some money for that was contained within President Bush's proposed fiscal 2006 budget.

But no federal money is budgeted for commemoration of the Market Street house where George Washington and John Adams conducted their presidencies. Nor is there funding available for a memorial to the slaves who served Washington.

Congress has mandated the commemoration, which is expected to cost about $4.5 million. The city has agreed to provide $1.5 million. Bomar said she hoped Congress would appropriate funding for the project.

Michael Coard, a founder of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, an organization that is seeking acknowledgment and commemoration of Washington's slaves, said Bomar had been "flawless in setting the proper tone."

But regarding money for a slave commemoration, Coard vowed: "ATAC and others are not going to take no for an answer."

Bomar has pledged to finish the commemoration and the other projects.

"My interest is still going to be very close to Independence," Bomar said. "It's my love. And I'm not stepping away from the President's House, the landscaping and the security. They are the three projects that I will see finished."

 

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