In sharp contrast to previous Presidential visits, the public will be shut out when Barack Obama and his family arrive on the Vineyard somewhere in a five-hour window on Sunday afternoon.
As the Martha’s Vineyard Airport and later a White House spokeswoman confirmed yesterday, there will be no chance for the media, or, more importantly, Islanders to see the First Family.
“It will be what’s called a closed arrival,” said the airport manager Sean Flynn.
“There will be no opportunity at all, really, for the public to view it. That’s the straight up, honest answer. You won’t catch a glimpse of anything.”
A presidential spokesman said later the First Family would land in Air Force One at Otis Air Base near Bourne on Cape Cod, where their arrival will be open to media, and then commute to the Island by helicopter, where it will not.
The exact time of arrival was not revealed, only that it would be some time between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Obamas’ stealthy approach bears comparison to those of the last Presidential family to regularly visit the Island, the Clintons.
For their first visit, in August of 1993, thousands of flag-waving Islanders clustered at the airport and lined the roads. Edgartown school children stood on the tarmac to greet the President and his family, and a group of children from the Boys’ and Girls’ Club held a red, white and blue banner and sang Happy Birthday to the President. White House staff planned the public details long in advance and sought the cooperation of local media in publicizing them.
President Clinton visited the Island in all but one year of his term. Each time he was accessible on arrival, and also at other events around the Island, notably at the Agricultural Fair. Numerous store owners and others around the Vineyard display photographs of the casual interactions.
While the possibility of some spontaneous interaction between the Obamas and locals cannot be ruled out, it does not look likely, going by intelligence filtering back from those few local officials who have been slightly informed of plans.
No official engagements have been scheduled; the suggestion is that the first family will sequester themselves at their rented vacation house on Blue Heron Farm. The only suggested activities off the farm were a couple of possible golf dates for the President and perhaps a private dinner or two.
The lack of wider access maintains a pattern set in Mr. Obama’s previous couple of visits to the Island, before he became President. In 2007, when candidates Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all visited in quick succession, the Clinton and Edwards campaigns held low-cost fundraisers — Mrs. Clinton’s drew several thousand people at $50 a head for the biggest ever event at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle — while Mr. Obama held only a $2,300 per-person, private event.
If, as appears to be the plan, the Obamas lie low for the duration of their vacation, they will leave a growing media circus with no headline act. It is understood most of the major networks and cable channels plan extensive coverage. Only yesterday it was revealed the Geraldo Rivera show, on Fox, plans to broadcast from the Island on Saturday evening.
There will be media briefings for the Washington media, but otherwise the news pickings look thin, something which may play to the advantage of certain Obama critics.
Cindy Sheehan, for example, the peace activist whose son Casey was killed in the Iraq War, plans a series of media events — among them a peace vigil in Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs and an event at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
“In addition,” said a press release put out by her handlers, “there will be impromptu gatherings during the week.”
Right-wing activists also are reportedly targeting the President during his time on the Vineyard.
According to the Plum Line blog on the Washington Post Web site, a leaked memo from the group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, refers to a “Martha’s Vineyard strategy.”
Says the blog “. . . this is a reference to a planned national ad targeting the public [health reform] option, that will reference the President’s vacation.”
Vineyarders themselves have a reputation for respecting the privacy of visiting celebrities and not engaging in acts of political confrontation, but some of them also are less than happy with the tight security which surrounds this visit.
Of particular concern are the restrictions which will apply to aircraft flying to and from the Island.
These are likely to completely shut down operations at Katama Airfield, and also impose stringent conditions on non-commercial flights out of the main airport.
One pilot who regularly commutes from his Edgartown home, Bill Brine, said he spent 90 minutes this week filling out forms, and expected to spend hours more clearing security while leaving and returning to the Island.
“They asked for my social security number, my pilot’s certificate number and my passport number,” he said.
“So you need a passport to leave Martha’s Vineyard. Just to be on the manifest for a private airplane leaving the Vineyard.”
And the flight manifest had to record similar details for any passengers
“And if one doesn’t have a passport number it shuts you out of the system.”
He complained that the security and search procedures were the same as those required to fly in or out of the country.
“So they’re actually bringing us to the level of a foreign country,” he said.
Mike Creato, manager of the Katama Airfield and operator of Classic Avaitors biplane flights, said he was expecting to take a financial hit from the Presidential visit.
All operations other than his joy flights have been stopped. At press time he still was negotiating with the Secret Service and Federal Aviation Administration about the biplane flights.