"You Can Notice When Trump Is In Town For Sure" : How Presidential Visits Have Changed Palm Beach

Apr 6, 2017

President Donald Trump arrives in Palm Beach Thursday afternoon for meetings at his Mar-a-Lago estate, dubbed the Winter White House, with Chinese President Xi Jingping.

Every time the president spends time in Palm Beach, security increases, making life a little more challenging for the local residents. It also attracts protestors, who have gathered across the waterway and have held up traffic in some neighborhoods. Currently, Trump enjoys relative support from his neighbors, and some say he can be credited with opening the city  to a bigger demographic.

Read more: Mar-a-Lago or Trump Tower: Could a federal law force Trump to choose? 

The Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei has been going to Palm Beach for numerous president visits. We talk to her about how town's perceptions of the president's visits. 

WLRN: Donald Trump turned Mar-a-Lago into a private club in 1995. And it led to big changes on the island of Palm Beach. What happened?

MAZZEI:  He [Trump] opened Mar-a-Lago as a private club and let anybody become a member, as long as they could pay their fees, with no restrictions. In the traditional private clubs of Palm Beach they didn't allow Jewish people, African-American people, openly gay people to be members. Trump changed the way the island approached some of its outsiders. Some people credit him, in retrospect, with helping open Palm Beach to a new, younger, generation.

 The area around Mar-a-Lago has limited access. There’s only one road that goes north and south on the island right in front of the property, and there’s no other way around that unless you drive to the next bridge. So every time the President visits, the extra security makes things sort of tight for motorists, boaters and pilots. What do people say about all that security?  How do they feel about that?

They say you can notice when Trump is in town for sure. But they also said the town, the county and the sheriff's office have handled things pretty well.

One good thing about Mar-a-Lago’s location is that it’s relatively close to the airport, so the motorcade doesn’t have to make a huge long run. The members of Mar-a-Lago say 'we have to have our cars swept now and we have to go through metal detectors and security when he's in town, but it's only a 10 minute delay' and people are pretty OK with it. They feel safe too.

Trump's portrait on a wall in Mar-a-Lago.
Credit SCOTT KEELER / Tampa Bay Times / Miami Herald

What does his presence do to help or hurt the island?

I think the island feels the buzz of having the president around. He doesn't have to be a man around town for them to feel it. If he brings legislators or foreign leaders for meetings, that puts Palm Beach on the map.

Mar-a-Lago is private and discreet but it's used to famous people and he's even said that's where he was writing the inaugural address so the winter White House looks like it's going to be getting some action.

And Palm Beach knows all about having presidents...

The Kennedys had an estate in the northern end of the island. (John F.) Kennedy liked being around town a lot. People would see JFK having lunch out on the water and in other places. Trump is usually seen in church, although his wife and son sometimes are seen shopping and running errands. But this [Trump's] is a different approach than the Kennedys had where they were kind of the family around town.

China's Xi to meet Trump in Mar-a-Lago
Credit Miami Herald

What sense do you get from the locals? Do they like him or not?

I think Palm Beach is hard to penetrate for an outsider. I don't want to pretend to know how everybody feels.

There certainly are detractors who didn't vote for Trump, who wish him well but are not necessarily thrilled for the inconvenience of having him there and also just not thrilled for his presidency.

Palm Beach County is blue, the town of Palm Beach is red. So he is surrounded, I think, by friends and people who have known him for a long time. He obviously feels very comfortable with the members of his club. He socializes with them even as President elect. There's probably going to be a detente between his relationship with the town that had been so difficult early on and everyone's willing to kind of give him a chance. And if not perhaps they'll be vocal about it later on.