The Coastal Star

Keeping an eye out for the president: A political buzz and a (mostly) profitable swarm

By Tim O’Meilia
Four things learned from last month’s visit of President Obama and Vice President Biden:
    1. Waiting onlookers and reporters like pizza, ice cream and cinnamon-nut French toast.
    2. Roped-off parking lots mean no parking meter revenue and no beachfront breakfast crowd.
    3. No school buses parked nose-to-tail were harmed during the presidential and vice-presidential visits.
    4. You can get from Manalapan to the Palm Beach International Airport in 17 minutes even if the bridge is out — if you’ve got a Secret Service escort.
    President Barack Obama’s motorcade didn’t buzz up to the Ritz-Carlton’s back door until after 9:30 p.m. July 19, giving well-wishers and television news crews hours of milling-around time in the Plaza del Mar shopping center at the corner of Ocean Avenue and State Road A1A.
    “It was the best night we’ve had since we opened,” beamed Dean Ismajli, who opened his second Lantana II Pizza two months ago in the Plaza courtyard. The restaurant wrote 227 order tickets that night.
    Ismajli suspected the Secret Service had been reconnoitering the plaza for several weeks.
“Well-dressed, clean-cut, big,” he said, flexing his shoulders and arms. “They won’t tell you (who they were) but you could pretty much tell.”
    Around the corner, the Ice Cream Club didn’t have a Rocky Road to the White House cone on the menu, but they did have a “Welcome, President Obama” sign.
    Not that the president could see the sign from behind the row of protective school buses lining the plaza parking lot along A1A. Some of the crowd wondered if

ABOVE: Security atop the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan keeps a lookout as crowds wait for President Obama to pass.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star | See more photos


schoolchildren had been bused in to greet the president.
    “We didn’t get the president over here, but we got a lot of other people. It was a fun and exciting event,” said store co-owner Rich Draper.
    Wendy Yarbrough of John G’s in the plaza was expecting a presidential customer for breakfast. “The Secret Service were all over the place,” she said.
    The staff and locals were ready for their close-up with the POTUS. But world events intervened overnight.
    “It’s unfortunate about the horrible tragedy in Colorado,” Yarbrough said, “and we are praying for the victims, but yes, we were disappointed that he couldn’t make it.”
    Locals lined up outside the restaurant at 7 a.m. when Yarbrough opened the doors. “But they wouldn’t come inside — they all just hung out on the sidewalk to see him.”
    While Vice President Joe Biden spent barely 45 minutes at the hotel, the president’s overnight entourage occupied two floors of the resort and required metal detectors at every elevator.
    The visits didn’t ring the cash register for everyone.
    With the Lantana beach parking lot next to the Ritz roped off for security concerns, the beachfront Dune Deck did little Friday morning business until the president left at about 9:15 a.m.
    “The police came in and bought, so it wasn’t so bad,” said co-owner Costa Panais.
    With no parking lot and a downpour Monday morning when Biden arrived, Panais decided not to open. “We had to do what we had to do. You’ve got to protect the president,” he said. “It was out of my hands.”
    The town of Lantana is taking a different tack. With their metered parking blocked off for a day and a half, town officials calculated a loss of $4,275 in parking meter income. The Town Council decided to ask the feds for a reimbursement.
    The town can’t afford to lose the money, said Mayor Dave Stewart, since the council faces a $140,000 deficit unless taxes are raised. “That’s money we would have brought in, anticipated revenue,” he said, suggesting the town needs a new $5,000 ATV for beach patrol.
    “We can ask for it. I really don’t expect to get it,” the mayor said. “Maybe we’ll get a nice letter back saying sorry for the inconvenience.”
    The two visits forced Manalapan and South Palm Beach to call in extra officers, but the overtime was minimal, both police chiefs said. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office bore the brunt of providing security.
    One South Palm Beach onlooker counted 93 motorcycles, trucks and limousines in the president’s motorcade and 63 in Biden’s. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond by press time to a request for the cost.
    “It was a very smooth operation,” said Manalapan Police Chief Carmen Mattox. “All the businesses in the plaza cooperated and the Ritz-Carlton cooperated.”
    South Palm Beach Police Chief Roger Crane said several hundred people lined A1A for a glimpse of the president’s motorcade and all followed instructions to stay on the sidewalk. “No one jumped out in the road to take a picture,” he said.
    The Ice Cream Club’s Draper is eager for more campaign visits before the November election. “Whatever brings in the television coverage and gets the plaza and the Ritz talked about,” he said, ever the businessman.                           
Jan Norris contributed to this story.

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