Key West rumors for the past 10 days have had President Donald Trump in town, just leaving town, already out of town and false alarm/not in town. Looks now like the president will spend about two hours in Key West Thursday meeting with the Joint Interagency Task Force South, JIATF.
The first credible confirmation Trump might arrive in Key West on Thursday came from the Palm Beach Post, which on April 12 quoted the president’s public schedule that included a Key West visit on Thursday. Over the next couple days, everyone quoted the same public schedule On Monday, April 16, the FAA issued a VIP alert and The Citizen posted a confirmation from the Coast Guard. Tuesday morning, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay reminded folks that traffic would be a challenge on Thursday.
So, although there’s not much in the way of details, there are tea leaves to read that indicate the president will be in Key West, albeit for only a couple hours and only at the Naval Air Station. So, what do we know, what don’t we know and what do we think we know?
What we know
In no particular order, these are the things I can confirm from credible sources as of Tuesday afternoon.
- Trump’s official scheduling sources show him landing at Naval Air Station Key West on Boca Chica around 11 a..m., Thursday. Boca Chica is the locals’ shorthand for the training base that is about four miles east of Key West. We are regularly treated to some magnificent flying machines during training exercises, which are virtually year round out of the base. It will be the host once again to the Blue Angels in March 2019.
- A motorcade has been publicly announced from Boca Chica to the Naval Air Station location in Key West near Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The Joint Interagency Task Force South works out of this location, which, despite tourism ads to the contrary, really is the southernmost point of the United States. JIATF-S “conducts detection and monitoring (D&M) operations throughout their Joint Operating Area to facilitate the interdiction of illicit trafficking in support of national and partner nation security. JIATF South coordinates with the interagency and international partners to illuminate transnational organized crime networks and support interdiction and apprehension by U.S. and Partner Nation law enforcement agencies.”
- The route, if there is a motorcade, appears to be west from Boca Chica, across the Cow Key Bridge, left onto South Roosevelt, past Smathers Beach and the Key West airport, left onto Atlantic Boulevard, right onto White at the White Street/Knight Pier, past city hall and left onto United straight a mile or so into the NAS.
- The City of Key West has already installed barricades along that route. Take it seriously. If you’ve got your car parked along either side of that route, get it moved before 8 a.m., Thursday. If you don’t? The city will tow it. No warnings; no questions asked. And, they’ll be blocking off those streets and intersections. When can you come back? Maybe by 4 p.m.; maybe a bit earlier, depending on Trump’s departure time from JIATF.
- Key West Mayor Cates will be among those who will meet with Trump. Other than Cates, it appears few civilians will be around.
- City staff were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss details and planning, although little information has been released publicly.
- There’s likely to be protestors AND supporters along the route. Although there’s a mythology that it’s all blue down here, Republicans control the politics five miles east of Key West and then on up the Keys. With 79 percent of Monroe County’s eligible voters casting ballots in November 2016,Trump won 54 percent of the total votes. Only in Key West were the numbers reversed. Hillary Clinton took 53 percent of the presidential vote in Key West in 2016.
- This is the first time a sitting president has visited Key West since November 1962, when then-President John F. Kennedy was here. Mark Howell and the delightful Connie Gilbert wrote this wonderful history piece for KONK Life in 2013: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Key West.
What we don’t know
A lot. It’s not unusual for public details to be sketchy when a presidential visit is in the offing. After all, the security challenges are mind-boggling under the best of circumstances and particularly so when there’s only one way in and out of a location — unless the president comes by boat (unlikely) or by air, which actually might make more sense.
So here’s what we don’t know — and hopefully the city and county folks will be able to answer these questions soon:
- Will Trump come into town in a motorcade as has been announced? Given that one of the Marine One helicopters, the official presidential helicopter, could land at JIATF and has been doing reconnaissance over the island for the last couple days, it would seem to make more sense that Trump would helicopter from Boca Chica to Key West. Avoid the traffic and the Cow Key Bridge jam-up; just fly over; in and out in just a few minutes. The whole motorcade thing could be a security red herring.
- What will people who live along the motorcade route do on Thursday? Can they leave their homes? Will traffic out of, say, the hotels and condos along the beach be stopped for hours? Right now, no one is saying. Although Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay issued a statement earlier Tuesday asking for patience.
- Ditto getting on and off the island. I’m guessing there’s not going to be much movement on and off the island from about 11 a.m. — 2 p.m., give or take an hour or two, if there’s a motorcade.
- Commercial air traffic? Well, if South Roosevelt is shut down, there’s no other way to get to the airport, even if commercial flights are still landing and leaving. Interesting conundrum.
- When will it be over and back to Key West normal? Possibly as early as 2 p.m., although the city has that parking ban in place until 4 p.m.
What we think we know
Rumors abound. As always when there’s a public information vacuum, the rest of us will fill in with conversation, speculations and wondering. What we think we know:
City and county officials, particularly the department heads and staff who have to manage all this, are up to their ears in Secret Service meetings and requirements. It’s been a long time since Key West needed to prepare for a VIP visit of this magnitude, so I’m pretty sure there’s not a handy three-ring binder to be pulled off the shelf.
Key West is getting a taste of what life is like for residents who live around presidential locations. Whether it’s Obama’s Chicago neighborhood, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago or his Bedminster, NJ golf resort, there’s no escaping the disruption that comes when the president visits. As a friend posted to me this week: “Welcome to my world.” She lives in Bedminster.
And, for those who are irritable that this is all just a Trump thing? Let me remind us of President Bill Clinton’s $200 haircut that shut down two airports in Los Angeles in 1993. Oh, wait. That never happened.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and owner of Key West Island News.