Senior White House aides and Secret Service are now considering three Vineyard properties for a planned holiday by President Obama and his family next month.
And while the White House is still not confirming the Obamas’ Vineyard vacation plans and no lease has been signed, officials have considered more than 20 properties, including at Cow Bay, East Chop and Edgartown Great Pond. Real estate brokers have been contacted; properties have been shown, and while the vast majority of them have been rejected, either for reasons of security, or unsuitability for family needs, the Obamas are now down to a short list of properties for their possible vacation.
And in a striking departure from the Clinton Summer White House years on the Vineyard, the Obamas have made it clear that if they do come to the Vineyard they intend to rent property through an arm’s-length transaction.
At press time yesterday no lease had been signed.
Rumors relating to a first family visit have flown about the Island like so much patriotic confetti since spring and it turns out that some of them, though certainly not all, have a solid basis in fact.
“The White House is not confirming vacation plans,” said a spokesman yesterday.
Here are other known facts:
The Obamas are considering a Vineyard holiday during a period that falls roughly from August 22 to August 30. If the President and his family do come, it will likely be for less than two weeks, as they seek much-needed rest.
Hotel and rental space has been blocked off for Secret Service for the month of August. Wesley Hotel owner Peter Martell confirmed this week that he has reserved a substantial section of his Oak Bluffs hotel for the month of August, following a conversation with Secret Service agents around a fortnight ago.
The exploration of suitable property for the Obamas has involved consideration of many factors, including, of course, the need for security, but there are other factors as well. Certain Island roads, especially down-Island, are easily prone to traffic bottlenecks, which would pose potential problems when the President and his family go out, including to Oak Bluffs, where they have friends.
The three properties under consideration are all private residential compounds and all are suitable for in-and-out travel by a Summer White House motorcade, with relatively unfettered access to the airport and to Oak Bluffs.
During the Clinton Summer White House years which began in 1993, the Clintons stayed at former Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara’s home in the Oyster Watcha Midlands in their first year, and at the home of major Democratic party contributor and Boston real estate developer Richard L. Friedman, also on Oyster Pond, in subsequent years. At all times the use of the homes were given to the Clintons.
And while there have been offers of private homes to the Obamas, the offers were rejected with the clear understanding that the Obamas wish to rent.
If they come at all.
No strangers to the Vineyard, the Obamas have stayed in Oak Bluffs several times and have longtime friends with Island connections, many from the Oak Bluffs summer community. Among these friends are Valerie Jarrett, Obama confidante and now senior advisor to the President. Ms Jarrett is a longtime Oak Bluffs seasonal resident. Mr. Obama’s mentor at Harvard law school, Professor Charles Ogletree, is also a longtime summer resident of Oak Bluffs. Mr. Ogletree has been a golfing partner to Mr. Obama on the Vineyard and has expressed his wish this year to take the President fishing if he comes.
In 2007 Mr. Obama visited the Vineyard as a presidential candidate for closed-door, big-ticket fund-raisers. In 2004 he was on the Island as a senatorial candidate and spoke at a forum on race relations.
On both occasions a holiday appeared to be the primary motivation, with the Vineyard offering the necessary refuge for some time off.
“I can wander around in shorts and not shave in the morning and no one talks about it,” he said at the 2007 fund-raiser.
Of course, this was all before the Obamas became the First Family and all that entails. Every aspect of a trip this year would be subject to increased scrutiny, from travel plans to restaurant choices. ArtCliff owner Gina Stanley confirmed yesterday that she had been approached and had provided a menu from her restaurant to the White House.
Airport manager Sean Flynn said he has had no communication as of yet regarding an Air Force One visit but he said that squares with the timetables of previous visits.
“In the past it’s been between two and three weeks ahead of schedule. That was pre 9/11 movements.
“It’s a coordination effort. Coordinating with Air Force, Marines . . . it’s a huge effort for that day. There will be more staff on the day because we have the rest of the airport to run.
“I anticipate the security post 9/11 will be completely different. I have done eight or nine under Clinton — even those changed along the way.
“But we’ll definitely be ready for it — if it happens.”
If Mr. Obama does come next month he will not be going out on a limb as a President on his summer holidays.
Through the years the Island has been a spot for many visiting Presidents. John Adams came in 1760, to visit friend Jonathan Allen in Chilmark. President Ulysses S. Grant was driven around the Camp Ground on Illumination Night. Mr. Clinton and his family came six times during his presidency. John F. Kennedy stayed unexpectedly one night in Vineyard Haven when his sailboat was marooned there. Richard Nixon licked ice cream on Main street, Edgartown. Franklin D. Roosevelt anchored the Potomac in Tarpaulin Cove on his way to sign the Atlantic Charter with Winston Churchill.
Mr. Roosevelt did not come ashore and, it was reported at the time, Islanders left the chief executive alone, with one remarking:
“The man is trying to rest. And the Lord knows he needs it.”