Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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Obama visits Ocean Reef

NORTH KEY LARGO -- President Barack Obama spent his first weekend in Key Largo without ever leaving the secluded Ocean Reef Club.

The president traveled from Washington, D.C., to Florida last Friday morning, accompanied by U.S. Congressman Joe Garcia, D-Miami, with whom he discussed the situation in Venezuela, immigration reform, implementation of the Affordable Care Act and skyrocketing flood insurance rates, Garcia's office said.

After arriving in Miami, the president, with First Lady Michelle Obama, visited Coral Reef Senior High School, where he spoke to hundreds of teenagers about education and financial aid.

From there, the Obamas were taken by helicopter to the gated Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo for a weekend getaway with their children.

In the days leading up to the president's arrival, some equity members weren't thrilled to learn the club was rolling out the red carpet for the head of state.

"President Obama has done nothing but degrade and punish the 'one percent' of Americans who have done the most for this country," according to an email to Ocean Reef Club board members signed by residents Joe and Fran Murphy.

"To have a man here who hates us, who has divided America along racial lines, hates people who have been successful in life by hard work and determination is an affront to the membership. He despises what we have achieved, and would love to have the government open our gates to whomever would like to come into our lovely conservative community."

Noting that the private club is not a resort, the Murphys' email said the board should have polled equity members before allowing the visit.

"You are putting the members in danger by having him here," the email stated. "If the Secret Service cannot protect him in the openness of our community, we become the collateral damage."

A phone message left at the Murphy residence for further comment was not returned.

Ocean Reef Club board members did not return messages left at their homes.

Some residents last week didn't necessarily share the Murphys' zeal.

"The sentiment is a mix between certified nut jobs and sane people who feel it is not obtrusive," said Arthur Birsh, an Ocean Reef Club resident. "Crazies will be crazy."

During the president's visit, some Ocean Reef employees took to Facebook to rave about meeting the president, which prompted similar replies from residents.

While vacationing at the gated club, the president played two rounds of golf with Ahmad Rashad, Cyrus Walker and Alonzo Mourning. Walker is a cousin of Valerie Jarrett and has played golf with the president on at least one previous Florida trip. Mourning is a former Miami Heat basketball player. Rashad is a sportscaster and former NFL wide receiver.

In addition to recreation, Obama had telephone conversations with world leaders on the crisis in Ukraine, speaking one-on-one Saturday with the leaders of three European powers, and collectively with the heads of the three Baltic states, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

As for security at the club, on two occasions Saturday, March 8, F-16 fighter jets were rallied by the North American Aerospace Defense Command to intercept general aviation aircraft in the vicinity of the Florida Keys and escort them out of temporary flight-restricted areas.

The first aircraft was out of radio communication initially, but once communication was established, it turned around and proceeded out of the no-fly zone. There was also no communication with the second aircraft, prompting the F-16s to intercept the aircraft and escort it out of the area, according to NORAD officials.

NORAD officials declined to comment further on the incident.

Secret Service and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office blocked off portions of Cinnamon Bark Lane in Ocean Reef. To get through the checkpoint, residents and their vehicles were searched by multiple agents.

jgore@keysnews.com

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