As Biden focuses on his transition, Secret Service becomes part of Wilmington landscape
The deal worked like this:
The Secret Service agents would sit two pews behind him at church. The motorcycle escorts would be no more. The streets wouldn’t be blocked off when his motorcade traveled in his home state like they would be in others.
He could still make trips to the drugstore without it being “embarrassing.”
And the vice president would, without question, continue to ride the train – regardless of the Secret Service’s strong opposition.
“Guys, I’m taking the train, you can either ride with me or not ride with me,” he recalled to a reporter in 2010. Then, as his story goes, the head of the vice president’s detail asked him: Does everybody call you Joe?
“In Delaware and in the train,” he replied, “everybody calls me Joe.”
In his eight years as vice president, Joe Biden notoriously urged his Secret Service detail to keep a distance while in Delaware — not typical for the man first in line for presidential succession.
He traveled to Wilmington as much as three times a week, making life difficult for agents, according to some reports.
He may not be able to dictate those same rules now. Just weeks away from becoming the leader of the free world, it's unclear if he will have this luxury as president.
As Biden works on his transition to the White House, despite President Donald Trump refusal to concede, the Secret Service has settled in Wilmington. The president-elect’s security has beefed up in the recent weeks, and it's likely Delaware will continue to see an increase in its presence over the next four years.
“I think you’re going to open the paper in spring or summer 2021 and say ‘My God, what are those helicopters doing here,’” Biden said during an August 2019 campaign fundraiser in Rehoboth Beach. “My God, where are all of those Secret Service agents.
“‘Why the hell did we support this guy. Holy mackerel,’” he said to laughs. “So just in case, I apologize ahead of time.”
Biden regained a Secret Service detail in March when he became the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. Since former vice presidents only receive six months of protection after they leave office, Biden relied on his own security – and at times wife Jill Biden – for campaign events.
According to reports, his Secret Service code name is “Celtic.”
During the Democratic National Convention, hosted in Wilmington because of the pandemic, the area surrounding the Chase Center turned into a fortress, with black barricades blocking the public from coming in. Dozens of agents and Wilmington police officers patrolled the area.
Agents checked cars and dignitaries and media members had to go through a metal detector and show credentials to enter.
This ramped up on Election Night and the days that followed, with even more Secret Service presence.
Temporary flight restrictions were placed over Biden's Greenville home and the Chase Center. And when Biden gave his victory speech, a panel of bulletproof glass was installed on the stage.
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Since Biden was declared the winner, he has held briefings and speeches at The Queen theater in Wilmington. Secret Service agents block off sections of Market and King streets and are positioned at various points outside of the building.
Agents are around the president and vice president at all times in public and provide for their security around the clock
During the fundraiser in Rehoboth Beach in 2019, Biden spoke of being surrounded by Secret Service agents who were fully equipped with a “bulletproof vest, machine gun, the whole works.”
“You can’t follow me in Delaware,” he said to laughs in the crowd. “I only go to a few places, so keep a distance.”
“I’m not joking.”
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Biden, as vice president, told The News Journal in 2010 that he did feel “restricted” by the Secret Service, but felt the most free when he was home in Delaware.
In addition to Jill Biden, his children and grandchildren will likely have access to a Secret Service detail.
When Biden was vice president, the Secret Service rented out a cottage he owned, which was next to his Greenville home.
Under the Trump administration, agents have been charged for renting cottages or occupying rooms at several of the president's properties, including Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida and Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in north Jersey. The Washington Post found that this has been extremely costly to taxpayers.
In recent months, the Wilmington Police Department has provided additional security for several campaign events. This has cost the department about $250,000 in overtime since August, Mayor Mike Purzycki said, most of it for the Democratic National Convention.
Little of that will be reimbursed by the federal government, but Purzycki said it’s a reasonable cost that he does not expect to rise.
“To me, we just look at it as the price of having the president-elect of the United States here in our community,” he said. “It’s not like we’re running around asking for reimbursements. I think it’s part of our responsibility to make sure our public safety departments are doing their jobs.”
As president, Biden’s Wilmington appearances will be reminiscent of his other eight years in the White House, Purzycki predicted. He anticipates it will be “well within a manageable realm” for the city.
“Having them have their little remote headquarters at The Queen is about as good a circumstance as I can imagine for us," he said. "It’s pretty fantastic to basically have the remote White House to be right here on Market Street.
“We couldn’t pay for this kind of publicity."
On a recent Monday afternoon, parts of Market Street were blocked off. Secret Service agents were outside The Queen. Biden and Harris were inside, virtually meeting with union and corporate leaders.
Reporters stood outside in the cold waiting to be let in, and those from the TV networks talked about where they would do their live shots after the president-elect’s speech.
Behind the theater on King Street, cars were restricted to one lane, inching by a cluster of police vehicles. A passerby in front of the courthouse across the street stopped to snap a photo of the assembled TV cameras, all pointed toward the theater exit.
Secret Service agents walked by on a Dunkin' Donuts run.
"Is this for Joe Biden?" a woman yelled from across the street.
“Something like that,” a police officer replied.
Staff writer Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting to this article.
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @MereNewman.