The President In Frederick, Chapter 1
Okay, having the President of the United States in Frederick isnít really such a big deal. In case you didnít know, he spends many weekends up at Camp David. In fact, I think at the end of his two terms, he will have spent more time in the Catoctin Mountains than any previous president.
Last Friday, President George W. Bush didnít just fly over or drive through Frederick on his way to the Thurmont mountaintop retreat; he actually spent almost an hour touring a local manufacturing plant, Wright Commercial Products.
I know because I was there. Wright Commercial manufactures high-end commercial lawn mowers, and they build them in southern Frederick County, in the Wedgewood Business Park off Route 85 and English Muffin Way.
The mowers they make at Wright arenít your regular old lawn mower. Most commercial mowers are built to last a few hundred hours. Wrightís products are built to last for several thousand!
This little adventure started last Tuesday, when Andrew Ciafardini, Special Assistant for the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, called me in my Annapolis office to get my personal information for a background check.
Hereís how that works: they call you a week ahead and ask for your Social Security number, date of birth, and other pertinent information. They donít, however, tell you what/where/when the event is or will be.
I guess it might be a good scam. Call a local elected official, tell them youíre with the White House, and obtain their SSN. Theyíll be so starry-eyed about meeting the president, theyíll gladly surrender the data, then you can use it to steal their identity and buy your way to happiness on eBay!
Lucky for me, Mr. Ciafardini was the real deal, and a real professional to boot. He took my information and promised to get back to me with the details. I had to promise to keep it all hush-hush, though. I honored the promise, sort of.
He was good for his word, though. He called me back the day before the big event, and told me the president intended to visit a manufacturing plant in my district. The visit would follow a major policy announcement on the economy and would occur before the president began a weekend visit to Camp David.
I would serve as a greeter, one of the officials that would await the presidentís arrival and meet him when he entered the facility. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Mayor Jeff Holtzinger, Sen. Alex Mooney, and the president and CEO of Wright, Bill Wright, would be the other greeters.
I was faced with an ethical dilemma. The General Assembly was scheduled to meet Friday morning, and the presidentís visit would require extra time to navigate security. Since the session schedule was lightened to accommodate the funeral plans for Sen. Gwen Britt (D., PG), getting an excused absence to meet the president seemed justified.
As it turned out, session lasted for about 18 minutes, and I didnít miss a thing.
The appointed time for POTUS (President of the United States) arrival was 12:45 P.M. I arrived at Wright Commercial about an hour beforehand, fearing long delays in parking, screening, and entry.
I underestimated the efficiency of the United States Secret Service, working in cooperation with the Maryland State Police and the Frederick County Sheriffís Office. When I turned off Route 85 onto English Muffin Way, the presence of law enforcement was immediate and obvious.
The parking lot of the building at 4600 Wedgewood Boulevard, several football fields in land mass, was roped off and well-secured. It appeared that there were several layers of protection.
First, the police cars lining Wedgewood Boulevard indicated a massive law enforcement presence. Next, the parking lot was roped in such a way as to funnel people to a single entry point, manned by Secret Service agents with clipboards listing the names of people who had been screened in advance (the Social Security/DOB thing).
Once you made it through the rope maze, the next level of security was evident. Buses, from the county TransIT system and the school system, were lined up around the last business in the 4600 block of Wedgewood. As I found out later, these buses were intended to provide a physical barrier for someone who might try to drive through the less structured rope barrier.
Entering Wright I was faced with a metal/explosives detector. Once fully screened, I was escorted to a holding area, and provided with a front-row seat to view the operation of the White House security apparatus.
Local media had to suffer some security assessments that were avoided by the formal White House press corps. Local documentarian/videographer and artist Mark McLaughlin and his crew had to open up every bag, turn on and shoot video with their cameras, and take pictures with regular camera gear. A Secret Service agent opened every bag, and rooted through every pocket.
Frederick News Post photographer Bill Green was forced to move to specific locations for pre-arranged photos, something he despises. Bill is a great photographer, and he believes (rightly) that he makes better shot composition decisions than some White House staff person.
There were a number of explosives-sniffing dogs, and if security is directly related to the number of big, serious-looking guys with radios clipped to their wrists and earpieces in their ears, then 4600 Wedgewood Boulevard was the most secure place on earth.
In Chapter 2 tomorrow, the president arrives and tours Wright Commercial.