BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – KAPOLEI, HAWAII – President Barack Obama announced on Monday at a campaign fundraiser on Oahu’s Leeward Coast that his wife Michelle and daughters Malia, 13, and Sasha, 9, will be returning “shortly” to Hawaii during the Christmas and New Years holiday – and he hopes to join them as well.
“It is great to be home, great to feel that Aloha spirit. And Michelle and the girls will be back shortly for Christmas vacation, as we do every year. We’ll see if Washington gets its business done, so I can get here as well. But that’s always a challenge,” Obama told a room of at least 300 supporters who paid $1,000, $5,000 or even $18,000 to attend his fundraiser at the Aulani – A Disney Resort & Spa – in Ko Olina.
The President will leave Hawaii on Tuesday after hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference from November 7 through 13.
This is the first time in about two decades that America has hosted the Pacific Rim event that attracts 21 counties and 20,000 participants.
And while government officials say APEC has brought priceless publicity to Hawaii, critics note that it has also cost local and federal taxpayers several million dollars for just security alone.
Federal agencies questioned by Hawaii Reporter including the U.S. Secret Service will not disclose any figures for security and staffing, including hotel and transportation, during APEC, but to understand the scope of people involved, there was an estimated 48 local, military and federal agencies with personnel on Oahu during the week long event to ensure the security of Obama and 20 other world leaders.
To fly the President in on Air Force One from Washington D.C. to Hawaii is about $1 million, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The President also reportedly rented an entire tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki for a portion of his four night stay here. His presidential suite in the Alii tower typically costs $4,000 a night.
Locally, the Honolulu Police Department spent $18 million on security during APEC, according to HPD Spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
City & County of Honolulu spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said the city spent a total of $43 million for APEC in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
“The City allocated $5 million for insurance and $8.6 million was not specifically allocated for an activity, but set aside as a contingency. The remainder was generally allocated for security,” McCoy said, clarifying that the $18 million for Honolulu Police Department equipment and over time pay is included in the $43 million.
Honolulu also spruced up the Waikiki sidewalk and landscaping throughout the area for approximately $5.5 million, McCoy said, and spent another $7 million on Waikiki road repair project, which were completed in time for APEC. But both of these CIP projects were already planned before APEC and should not be described as APEC expenditures, McCoy said.
The state has not yet compiled its figures for APEC, but costs would include landscaping and irrigating the roadway along Nimitz Highway with trees and grass, removing homeless camps and relocating homeless people in the secured APEC areas, assigning special security forces including the Hawaii National Guard and state sheriffs to monitor APEC protests and activities, as well as marketing efforts for the event through the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
With the President’s family returning so soon, local and federal taxpayers will again be charged for their Hawaii visit.
The President’s family uses their own resources to a rent private beach front residence in Kailua, Oahu, for their vacation – a so-called “Winter White House” that can cost $3,500 a day or $75,000 a month, according to Gadling.com.
But the local and federal taxpayers help pay the bill for travel and security.
Besides the $1 million to bring Air Force One to Hawaii, there are additional transportation costs for the Presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment to be brought in on USAF C-17 cargo aircraft, which costs about another $140,000 per aircraft. The US Marine Corps provides at least one Presidential helicopter that is also transported to the site via a C-17.
There is the expense for Secret Service members to travel to Hawaii ahead of time to scout locations that the president may visit. There are additional charges for the Secret Service and Navy Seals to rent beachfront or canal front homes at strategic locations to ensure the President’s safety. During the 2010 Christmas holiday, the Secret Service and Navy Seals rented a total of 6 beachfront homes for the duration of the President’s stay for anywhere between $1,000 and $1,250 per day. The U.S. Coast Guard personnel also operate 30-foot speedboats mounted with high-powered firearms and two smaller boats in front of the President’s rentals 24 hours a day during the family’s visit.
The President’s staff that travels with him, even on vacation, find their way into upscale Waikiki hotels. In December 2010 and January 2011, about two dozen staff spent their holidays in at the quaint Moana Surfrider (A Westin Resort & Spa) on Waikiki Beach. The hotel, which usually rents rooms for $350 to $450 a night does offer government rates, but citing security, the White House and the hotel refused to disclose this total or give a breakdown.
Up to 18 automobiles accompany the President when he travels via car to include several police cars, Secret Service manned SUVs, and an ambulance.
Louise Kim McCoy, press secretary for Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, said that a City ambulance that accompanied the Presidential motorcade during the 2010 holiday cost about $10,000.
The Honolulu Police Department spent $228,247 for the President’s most recent Christmas/New Year’s visit. In 2009, city taxpayers were charged $250,000 in police overtime to guard the President and another $100,000 in 2008 when Obama was the President-elect. The city has never been reimbursed for these expenditures by the federal government.
Last year, Hawaii Reporter research documented that the President’s Hawaiian vacation for one year alone cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million, with additional expenses virtually impossible to estimate without the White House’s cooperation.
That is about a $6 million tab for Obama’s family vacations in the islands since he became President.