2014-08-28 / Front Page

Obama Newport Bound

By Tom Walsh


President Obama continues a busy season of fundraising visits across the country, with more than 40 so far this year, fetching up to $32,000 a ticket. His Aug. 29 Newport visit to Seafair will attract party notables from up and down the East Coast. Obama has hosted more than 400 events since taking office, but still has a way to go before matching President Bill Clinton’s record of 634. President Obama continues a busy season of fundraising visits across the country, with more than 40 so far this year, fetching up to $32,000 a ticket. His Aug. 29 Newport visit to Seafair will attract party notables from up and down the East Coast. Obama has hosted more than 400 events since taking office, but still has a way to go before matching President Bill Clinton’s record of 634. As Fridays go, this year’s final Friday before Labor Day is shaping up to be more memorable than most.

Besides being an annual signal of summer’s imminent swan song, the day is also different because President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in Newport to headline a highend national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at Seafair.

High-end?

How about tickets starting at $10,000 each and peaking at $32,000 to hear the President extol Democratic Party virtues at an oceanfront mansion?

Three Rhode Island incumbent congressional Democrats are seeking re-election this year: U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and House members David Cicilline in District 1 and James Langevin in District 2.

Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop was invited and plans to be there at 5:30 p.m. for the threehour presidential event. As mayor, he does not have to pay. “I usually go to political events that go for between 25 to 100 bucks, but I’ve never before gone to one of this magnitude,” Winthrop said.

He said two days before the event that he did not know the name of one other person who would be there. The mayor said he thought it would be nice if his wife, Deborah, could join him with the President. “I called and asked if she could come,” he said. “They said ‘sure—for $10,000.’”

The mayor’s wife said no thanks.

The amount might seem high for the general public, but for party stalwarts it is the norm at this type of function. During last month’s West Coast trip to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Democratic enthusiasts paid up to $32,400 for the privilege of dining with and listening to the president. Tickets to a July 9 barbecue in Dallas went for $10,000.

Seafair is the home of Richard L. Bready, former chairman, CEO and president of Nortek, Inc., and the mansion has been hosting highprofile guests since it was built in 1936 for banker and diplomat Verner Z. Reed Jr. The house sits out on a small peninsula and has been battered by numerous hurricanes over the years, earning it the nickname “Hurricane Hut” among locals.

“It’s always a good thing to have someone such as the President of the United States come to Newport and shine a bright light on all there is to offer here,” said Melanie Delman, the agent handling the sale of Seafair.

For the Newport Police Department, the last Friday in August will not exactly be a party.

"When we were notified by the Secret Service of this pending visit, we terminated all leave for that day among officers and patrol staff,” said Lt. William Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said the department has fashioned a plan to deal with the presidential visit which will include parking and travel restrictions. "People should be prepared for possible traffic delays and road closures," he added.

He said he could not disclose how President Obama would arrive in Newport or how he would depart. Earlier on Friday, the president is scheduled for appearances in Westchester, N.Y., according to published reports.

Fitzgerald said his department has a long history of handling visits by U.S. presidents and other notables. When Democrat Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office, he stopped at First Beach (Easton’s), as well as the city’s water plant and Fort Adams. Republican President George W. Bush visited the Naval War College and his vice president, Dick Cheney, also made a fundraising trip to Newport while in office.

“Friday’s event will not be the first time and it won’t be the last,” Fitzgerald said.

See more on President Obama's visit to Newport on page 18.

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