As usual, some local news outlets missed the real story.
They were so starstruck by President Biden’s taxpayer-funded, Republican-bashing campaign stop in Virginia Beach on Tuesday that they didn’t notice that the city ground to a halt for hours Tuesday afternoon.
It was a giant clusterfart.
From one end of Virginia’s largest city to the other, traffic was gridlocked. Businesses lost money, appointments were missed and untold gallons of gas were wasted as fuming motorists stewed in traffic, unsure of what was going on.
A nuclear attack? A massive 100-car-pile-up? Fugitives on the loose?
Nope, just the president on a last-minute trip to Virginia Beach to rant about how the GOP wants to slash spending on health care.
Several television stations reported on the bumper-to-bumper traffic caused by rolling closures along the interestate. The print media? Nah. Not that I could find, anyway.
Biden flew into Oceana NAS around 2 p.m. and his motorcade headed to the Kempville Rec Center on Monmouth Road, 10.4 miles away, where he made a speech. Secret Service and various law enforcement agencies whose task it is to protect the life of the president, ordered parts of the interstate closed.
An appearance at the Convention Center would have been far less disruptive to the population, but his advance team was indifferent to disruptions — or perhaps they didn’t want the optics of Biden speaking to a mostly empty venue — and chose to throw most of the city into hours-long traffic turmoil.
Traffic snarls were everywhere: as far away as Northampton Boulevard in Norfolk, to Laskin Road at the oceanfront and along Great Neck Road, where a friend of mine told me his wife works in a dental office that lost an estimated $6,000 from patients that missed their appointments.
One listener to the Kerry and Mike Show emailed to tell us about a cancer patient who missed a chemo appointment due to traffic snarls and now has to wait a month for another appointment.
I spoke to a dental hygienist who dashed to Target at Hilltop Tuesday afternoon and was stuck there for hours.
Fact is, this trip was hastily thrown together and the city was forced to play catchup to accommodate the president.
A certain amount of secrecy always accompanies a presidential visit, but the breadth of the unannounced security perimeter on Tuesday was enormous.
When I talked to Mayor Bobby Dyer last night he told me that the first city officials heard about a presidential visit was late Thursday when they were told the president’s team was “thinking” about coming to the Beach.
It was late Friday — after 4 p.m. — before the mayor learned the trip was on. Even then, city officials had few details.
In fact, Dyer didn’t know until Monday that he was invited to the event. That’s when he also discovered that he would be part of a small welcoming committee to greet Biden at Oceana and join his motorcade to travel to the rec center.
His Honor was allowed to invite 10 people as long as they could be vetted by Secret Service in time, so Dyer brought along the rest of city council and cancelled Tuesday evening’s meeting.
That was smart. Traffic was barely moving by then.
A police officer told me that traffic around Town Center was at a dead stop from noon until at least 5 p.m.
Dyer, a Republican, said he warmly welcomed the president to Virginia Beach, hoping to send out the message that “everyone is welcome in Virginia Beach.”
“This was basically put together in 72 hours,” said Dyer. “We were left out of the loop on a lot of stuff.”
On Wednesday, City Manager Patrick Duhaney sent an email thanking the city departments that had to go into overdrive to make the presidential visit work.
To offer some perspective, this event was put together in less than four days, which meant some of you worked over the weekend. In that time, you turned a recreation center into an event venue, coordinated with state and federal partners to ensure a safe visit, and responded to resident concerns and questions. This was a massive undertaking, and I’m proud of what was accomplished in a short time.
Due to the security around the event, some things could not be shared in advance, which understandably caused some frustration within our community. Despite the challenges presented, the City, and its partners, came together and pulled off a successful event.
The event may have been successful, but essentially shutting down the city – without warning — for hours on Tuesday afternoon was a massive inconvenience to residents and could have had fatal consequences if emergency services were needed when the roads were clogged with stopped cars.
Now that it’s over, questions remain. Why exactly did the president come to Virginia Beach? There was no link between the city and healthcare. Other than that Elaine Luria — the darling of the Jan. 6th committee — lost the 2nd District seat in Congress to GOP Rep. Jen Kiggans.
A healthcare worker.
Here’s a more important question: how much did it cost Beach taxpayers for the overtime incurred by police and other city workers due to the president’s visit to deliver a political speech that was described in an online headline in The Virginian-Pilot this way:
“Biden Speaks On Health Care In Virginia Beach, Slams GOP.”
Let’s not kid ourselves. This was a campaign event, underwritten by Beach taxpayers.