D.C. vs. Nantucket: Why Joe Biden’s trip to Nantucket was raising eyebrows

The recent visit by former Vice President Joe Biden to Nantucket to celebrate his son Beau’s birthday raised eyebrows.

Biden has been criticized by conservative critics for arriving on the island just days after two of the Nantucket hospital wards that served patients with cancer care in the wake of his son’s death were closed because of new life in the room-only health insurance market. The criticism, however, focused more on the timing and timing of the visits by the 73-year-old former vice president, who still runs for president in 2020, than on his longtime support of the island’s high-end Democratic population.

On Thursday, after a backlash from reporters and advocacy groups, the air rights tower at the Nantucket Airport was closed so that the flights coming in and out of the airport could proceed with normal activities. “The tower will remain closed until he [Biden] writes a personal letter expressing remorse for the inconvenience caused,” Nantucket Mayor Dan Provost said in a statement at the time.

In addition to complaints from opponents of the flights, former and current Nantucket Island officials and the Dartmouth College men’s hockey team said Biden’s plans to spend Friday outside the confines of the hospital made him look out of touch.

“It was a really unfortunate message,” said Conor Seymour, chief executive of the Nantucket Islanders, a nonprofit and private charitable organization on the island. “When he gets back, he can do more. But what [Biden] does with that decision to spend the day outside of the hospital may show that he cares more about media reaction than real people, and that’s really unfortunate.”

Seymour said the visit was noteworthy in part because the topic has largely been off-limits for big political donors of the island. “Is it surprising that the architect of that public policy is on the island celebrating his son’s birthday?” Seymour said. “For the first time in five years, people with cancer on Nantucket are celebrating their lives rather than campaigning. That’s impressive.”

Charles Schwab, the billionaire founder of Charles Schwab Corp., is among the island’s most generous supporters.

“Having a vice president come and pay his respects? Of course that’s wonderful, and I’m sure he’s happy to do it,” said Schwab, who has no children or grandchildren on the island. “But it just feels wrong. Why did he have to make a political statement like that on a day like that?”

After Prime Minister Edouard Philippe traveled to the island for Beau Biden’s funeral in December 2015, members of Congress and state legislators wrote letters to the president and the president’s health secretary condemning Beau Biden’s decision to leave the island after his death to lie in state at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. Biden, who had deep ties to the island, ended up returning soon afterward.

“It seems like a pretty hypocritical decision,” said former Nantucket County Representative Mark Anderson, a Republican. “To celebrate a friend’s birthday on a day where public health care is no longer available — that doesn’t make any sense.”

Anderson noted that residents of Nantucket routinely celebrate holidays in the hospital when they have little else to do. “On a day like that, when we need public health care, we don’t have a lot to do in the hospital and we’re celebrating anyway. I get that this could be a special day, and it could be a joyful occasion for the Bidens,” Anderson said. “But the bottom line is that the hospital can no longer be a lifeboat.”

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