Vice President Biden and his wife to visit SundayPublished 10:53pm Monday, February 25, 2013
Although many of the details won’t be ironed out until a group of meetings Tuesday with administration officials and security personnel, it is safe to say this year’s Bridge Crossing Jubilee will be unlike any in quite some time.
Over the weekend, Jubilee officials and those with Vice President Joe Biden’s office confirmed the vice president and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, would take part in some Jubilee events held Sunday. What those events are, where they will be and what the adjusted schedule will look like are still undecided.
“We are meeting with [Biden’s] representatives Tuesday and will work out most of that,” Jubilee organizer Sam Walker said. “We have known the vice president was going to be coming for a few weeks, but we couldn’t tell anyone until his office released it.”
Walker said event organizers have provided Biden’s office a proposed schedule and list of events they’d like him to participate in, but are unsure if that schedule will be agreed to.
“It is similar to what we proposed when President (Bill) Clinton came to Selma in 2000, but it is up to his office and the Secret Service to have the final say,” Walker said.
Although the Times-Journal did not get a copy of the proposed schedule, Walker said it would include such things as moving the annual Unity Breakfast to a lunchtime event and moving up by a few hours the annual bridge crossing re-enactment march to allow for a speech from a stage set up at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, similar to the one arranged for Clinton.
The vice president’s visit will also mean a significant increase in the amount of security surrounding Sunday’s events and the relocation of the vendors and performers that are usually located on Selma’s Water Avenue.
“Those vendors will be moved to Church Street and to Lauderdale Street,” Walker said. “We are not going to be allowed to have anything at all along Water Avenue.”
Although not announced, visitors Sunday should expect to have to go through at least one security checkpoint and will see a much heavier presence of law enforcement officials from the federal, state and local level.
In a letter to church leaders last weekend, state Sen. Hank Sanders — also a key organizer of Jubilee — unveiled the vice president’s upcoming visit, and apologized for any inconveniences to churchgoers as they go through security checks.
“Security for all events require that people be screened before entering into the area. This is very time consuming. Unfortunately, this may affect attendance at some church services if members desire to participate in those events,” Sanders said in the letter. “We ask for your forgiveness, with the understanding that it is not every day that the Vice President of the United States visits Selma, Dallas County, the Black Belt or the State of Alabama.”
Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman, who was sheriff during Clinton’s visit in 2000, said his department is ready to help this weekend when needed.
“We have been working with the Secret Service and the Selma Police Department in the past few weeks, finding out what they need from us,” Huffman said. “We will have more deputies — both in uniform and in plain clothes — on patrol during the vice president’s visit.
“At this point, our job is to do whatever we are asked to do to help the Secret Service in protecting Vice President Biden, his wife, and the other dignitaries who will be in the area.”
Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley declined to comment on his department’s preparations, saying he would defer comment until after he had a meeting with the Secret Service later this week.
Selma Mayor George Evans said the city has already been making plans in recent weeks to ensure the visit by the Bidens — and the thousands of others who attend Jubilee each year — is a memorable event.
“Our crews are going to make sure we put our best foot forward this weekend and make sure Selma is looking its best,” Evans said. Evans was president of the Selma City Council in 2000 and remembers the extensive planning and work that was put in ahead of that historic visit. “This is the first time a sitting Vice President will have visited Selma and the eyes of the nation and world are going to be upon us. We want to make sure we look our best.”
Evans declined to comment on any conversations he has had involving security but did say Riley and Selma Fire Chief Mike Stokes have been working with Secret Service and White House officials to get ready.
Evans also said he is not worried about any additional preparation costs or overtime expenses the city may incur during the visit, saying the city has built in contingencies in the budget to handle such things.
“With that said, I would fully expect the additional sales taxes and lodging taxes we will see this weekend because of the additional crowds coming to see the vice president should help in offsetting some of those expenses,” Evans said. “But, this is not a cost I am worried about as his visit is a great way for us to show off Selma. It’s a great time for us to market Selma to the rest of the country, the world.”