Council Votes to Bill President Obama for Friday's Visit
Following a tense debate, City Councilor Ken Smith's motion to bill all campaigns for extra police, fire and public works costs through the Nov. 6. General Election passes.
The question of whether the city should bill President Obama for extra police, fire and public works costs associated with his visit to Strawbery Banke Museum on Friday drew fierce debate at City Hall Monday night.
When the dust settled, the City Council voted, 5-4, to bill the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign for any extra costs the city incurs whenever they hold political events in Portsmouth through the Nov. 6 General Election.
City Councilor Ken Smith made the motion. He, along with councilors Esther Kennedy, Nancy Novelline Clayburgh, Brad Lown and Jack Thorsen, voted in favor of the motion. Assistant Mayor Robert Lister, councilors Tony Coviello, Chris Dwyer and Mayor Eric Spear voted against the motion.
Smith said that when the president and vice president came to Portsmouth for official visits, the city covered the expenses, as well as the mutual aid when the president came to Durham and Rochester in June and August.
“When you are running a campaign, these are the expenses that have to be borne by the campaign.” Smith said.
He said when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came to Portsmouth in April, he was given a bill and it was paid and Donald Trump was also billed when he came in April 2011.
City Manager John Bohenko said in most instances he has heard, security is provided by the local governments and is not reimbursed by the campaigns.
Lister said the Obama campaign is already aware how the city and other communities feel about the issue of getting reimbursed.
"My feeling is at this point we should be so happy the president of the United States and the vice president want to come to the city of Portsmouth.”
He recommended the council vote on the motion at its next meeting after they learn how much the costs really will be. Spear also suggested the same thing, but the council voted to decide the motion during Monday's meeting.
“I think we owe it to our taxpayers to submit a bill,” said Novelline Clayburgh. “We owe it to them and to our taxpayers.”
Clayburgh pointed out that because New Hampshire is a battleground state whose four Electoral College votes could be critical in November, it is quite possible the city could see President Obama and Romney a few more times before voters go to the polls.
“During the primary seasons we usually bill the campaigns,” Bohenko said.
Kennedy said, “Whatever we do, we set the precedent tonight.”
Given the economic times, “Whoever campaigns in this city will be responsible for the bill, then I am for it,” Kennedy added.
Lown said the president is required by law to have sufficient security and protection when they go to a community. Lown said that when former President George H.W. Bush visited Portsmouth in 1988 to campaign at the former Yoken's restaurant and conference center, the city did not bill the campaign.
He also said that when President George Washington came to Portsmouth in 1789 and stayed at the house of Tobias Lear on Gardner Street, he “paid his own way for what I understand.”
“We are never, ever going to get reimbursed for this money, so we are kind of wasting our time,” Coviello argued.
Smith also said his motion was not intended to be political and that the city has already set a precedent to bill for campaign visits, regardless of who is involved.
Dwyer reminded her fellow councilors that Sept. 5 marks the 107th anniversary of the signing of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty in 1905, and the city has always been known as "the city of the open door" that does not bill anyone for coming here.
Spear said the council needs to consider the message its vote could send to current candidates and future campaigns. At a time when New Hampshire is fighting to preserve its First in the Nation President primary status and champions retail politics, the city should be honored to have the president and vice president come here.
"If you prefer to see your candidates only on TV, then the message should be sent that we don’t need to be as welcoming," Spear said.
“The benefits we gain far outweigh the costs,” he added.
Lown said the vote was almost a moot point. “This resident is going to come here regardless of what we do tonight.”