By Allan Ripp
What was your favorite part of President Biden’s visit to the Upper West Side last week?
Was it the locked mailboxes on Central Park West (bomb risk!), or perhaps the missing corner garbage bins (ditto)? Could it have been the “No Parking” restrictions that showed up days before, or the sanitation trucks and armored NYPD vehicles blocking intersections along the West 90s and the main entrances to the park. Police barricades lining Central Park West and Columbus Avenue are always fun to navigate, though no crossing when the president’s motorcade is approaching – or is it? Stand back until the guys with the earpieces say you’re free to go.
Best of all were the transverse closures at 96th and 86th Streets, backing up traffic like the Macy’s parade while sending drivers (like my son on his way to an event in Queens) well out of their way to get across town.
There was something for everyone, especially those living in the immediate blocks surrounding the El Dorado between 90th and 91st Streets, where Mr. Biden — like Barack Obama before him — was attending a campaign fundraiser June 29 at the home of a private equity titan (maybe even a billionaire or two were present). Residents without proof of ID (unlike the dozens of logistics staffers and Secret Service agents patrolling the streets) were blocked from getting through during the President’s early evening arrival, and told to cool their Trader Joe’s bags until it was safe to get home. I didn’t spot any police snipers posted as I did during Obama’s money runs, but assume they were there.
I know it seems petty and uncivil not to grant our nation’s leader some slack when he graces my neighborhood – hail to the Chief! But it’s not as if anyone but his mega-donors got a chance to catch a glimpse of His Bidenness, who was whisked in and out of the El Dorado’s side-door entrance under a covered VIP tent, as reported by the Rag. No flags or bunting, no waves and thumbs-up to the crowd who had gathered for a look.
No one likes to be inconvenienced and detoured merely trying to move freely about their own zip code on a summer afternoon. Moreover, it seems a tad off to see hundreds of thousands of dollars (my taxes!) spent on scores of police, heavy equipment, city and federal security personnel, etc. to secure such a large perimeter of a residential area so that a politician known as Lunchbox Joe can mingle with a bunch of moneybag swells to feed his campaign machine.
Personally, I was glad to see such a visible police presence for once around our ‘hood and made an effort to thank those in uniform on the scene. But did we really need such a large battalion assigned to party duty, including some with machine guns and body armor? Many cops looked bored and restless rocking on their heels or moving the metal stanchions about while waiting for Team Biden to wipe their canape napkins and count their pledges. If the Secret Service really wanted to ensure their man’s protection, wouldn’t it have been better to arrive in an unmarked Tesla?
And I couldn’t help wondering – how could we get even a handful of these officers to come around more often for genuine neighborhood needs, like keeping motorcycle and ebike delivery riders off the sidewalk or causally running red lights at every stoplight? Otherwise, out of Biden meant out of sight for the beat cops.
No doubt Mr. Biden has a solid – and forgiving – base on the Upper West Side. One woman who was brusquely stopped from squeezing onto West 91st Street during the height of security measures, shrugged it off, saying it gave her an excuse to go to Whole Foods up the street.
“Better it’s for Joe than for the other guy,” she said, presumably referencing Donald Trump, whose visits to the home of Republican giver Blackstone CEO Steven Schwarzman regularly tied up East Side neighborhoods. At least when George Bush came to town in search of bucks, he had the decency to do it at the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown.
Still, it seems strange that the President wouldn’t use his visit to a reliably Democratic stronghold to deliver a partisan message – about the Supreme Court, the migrant crisis, trans rights or that Canadian air. You can be sure Chuck Schumer would never waste such an opportunity to spout off.
And then, around 6:45, with still plenty of summer’s light to enjoy, the all-clear signal was given as the president was ushered off to another event, leaving abundant manpower to break down the complex surveillance and security apparatus that took days to assemble. As I headed to the park, free again to roam the streets as an independent voter, I felt a hard tug on my shoulder. My dog lifted his leg and peed on one of the NYPD barriers – at least someone got it.
Mr. Ripp, a resident of West 96th Street, runs a press relations firm.
Editor’s Note: We neglected to indicateat first that this is a Reader’s Opinion piece, but have added.