Don't Date on My Dime Mr. President

So, the President and the First Lady decided to have a night out on the town last Saturday. As the White House travelling press corps drooled over the sharply dressed first couple, the Obamas left the confines of the White House for dinner and a show in New York. To see the photos, they looked to be all class. Unfortunately, this was a classless move and nothing more than an arrogant display of limousine liberalism.

As a New Yorker and as a taxpayer, let me tell you loud and clear Mr. President - come as often as you'd like on official business. Date your wife somewhere else. In fact, do the taxpayer a favor and stay in Washington.

The media, in typical fashion, were duped by the White House who placed the cost of the President's jaunt to Gotham at a mere $24,000.00. Guess what? They lied.

As the American people muddle through the worst economy and the highest unemployment in a generation, the President's night out cost the taxpayer much more than people realize. The media are giving him a pass on the trip, or so it seems, but every unemployed, overtaxed American should do the exact opposite.

I've had the privilege of travelling in that White House bubble and know full well that the Obama Date Night was an appallingly expensive affair. The following is only a partial list of the necessary personnel, government assets and expenses to the taxpayer for the President's Saturday night on the town:

Air Force One

Perhaps they felt a little better about themselves because the White House chose to use a smaller Gulf Stream 5 aircraft instead of the 747 usually reserved for Presidential travel. However using the smaller plane, while good optics and cheaper required the use of two additional planes for staff, security and press. The cost of operating the Gulf Stream alone is estimated more than $10,000 an hour. The size and cost of the additional aircraft was extra, not to mention additional assets needed on stand-by in case of emergency.

Marine One and the Marine Helicopter Detachment

Moving the President around is an expensive and complicated task. While the Air Force takes care of the planes, the Marines handle the helicopters. For the New York Date Night, at least three of the Presidential Marine helicopters had to be flown to New York ahead of him. Routes are always practiced by the military for the visit and personnel, who require accommodations, are also sent in advance to liaise with the City and other critical resources.

The United States Secret Service

More than any other Presidential asset, the Secret Service are an indispensible part of Presidential travel. Just because this was a short trip doesn't mean that the Service worked fewer hours in planning and used fewer people. When the President is concerned, there is no half way. Without going into detail, Obama's night out probably required no less than three dozen agents ranging from transportation specialists to snipers to post-standers. Wouldn't you know it, all those guys get paid too. If they had to be there in advance, and were brought in from out of town they needed hotel rooms and an operation center at a New York Hotel too.

White House Advance and White House Communications

The President doesn't go anywhere without an advance team, which typically 'drops' in a destination city between three and six days ahead of a visit. The American taxpayer picks up the transportation, salaries, per diem and lodging for the team of between three and six advance people that handled this visit on the ground. Staff require office space at a New York hotel, typically the Waldorf=Astoria. The White House Communications Agency also had to send personnel to New York to ensure that the President is in constant communication with the Military and other government officials.

The New York City Police Department

One word - overtime. Whenever the President goes anywhere, it takes literally hundreds of local police to ensure he travels securely from one place to another. In addition to intelligence gathering and other functions, local police also ensure that the areas around the President's location are locked down. According to pool reports the President's motorcade on Saturday consisted of at least ten motorcycle cops and several police cruisers. Dozens of additional police would be needed at each stop and virtually every intersection along the President's itinerary. On a Saturday night, that means that a good chunk of the officers assigned to 'Date Night Duty' on the NYPD made time-and-a-half costing the New York taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

There were also fees for the use of the Wall Street Heliport and other costs associated with renting ramp space at JFK Airport. The Port Authority Police Department also had to dedicate and pay personnel overtime from public coffers to support the visit, because the NYPD doesn't have jurisdiction on airport property.

Still think it was only $24,000? It was probably closer to ten times that. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush took a lot of flak for their time spent outside of Washington. Both had far more respect for the taxpayer than spend-thrift Obama. Bush went out sparingly in Washington and never came to New York on a strictly personal trip. When he was in Manhattan, he came on official business and restricted his travel to avoid inconveniencing the tens of thousands of drivers and pedestrians who are often bottled up by closed streets and frozen zones in the nation's largest city. Obama's night out Saturday forced the closure of the FDR Drive, the West Side Highway, Times Square and 6th Avenue.

Additionally, Bush and Reagan both spent their "off time" at either Camp David or their ranches, because it was easier on the White House assets and the Secret Service. Out of respect for security personnel, staff and their families, not to mention the taxpayer, President Bush also restricted his travel during holidays. It would never have entered Bush's mind to plan a trip like this - especially at a time when so many Americans are struggling.

Now that's respect. That's class. Take a lesson Mr. President - and stay off Broadway.

2009-2010Albert Solano