Published: August 29, 2014 11:15 PM
The Providence Journal / Steve Szydlowski
President Obama greeted onlookers after arriving at T.F. Green Airport Friday evening on his way to a Democratic fundraiser in Newport.
By Tom Mooney
Journal Staff Writer
NEWPORT, R.I. — President Obama dropped into the City by the Sea Friday to spend a summer evening at a lavish seaside estate where he held company with members of the state’s top Democratic echelon and those willing to offer up as much as $32,000 to attend.
The fundraising event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attracted about 60 guests to Seafair, the rocky shoreline home of Richard Bready, former Nortek chief executive officer, and Betty Easton. And if any of the dinner guests took a particular shine to the Ocean Drive citadel as they enjoyed their plates of prime sirloin and Maine lobster tails with local parsnip purée, it’s for sale. For $19 million.
RelatedAir Force One landed at T.F. Green Airport shortly after 6 p.m. from Westchester County, N.Y., where Mr. Obama had attended events for the Democratic National Committee. After accepting greetings from Governor Chafee, and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, he hopped aboard a helicopter for a short flight over Narragansett Bay, landing at 6:40 p.m. at Brenton Point State Park, where his motorcade whisked him to Seafair without experiencing the summer tradition of Newport traffic. (Air Force One left T.F. Green at 9:53 p.m.)
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In remarks to dinner guests crowded into a yellow-walled dining room at the fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he faulted the Republican Party for congressional paralysis.
The president said that the reason Congress doesn’t function is because the Republican Party has been captured by an “ideological, rigid, uncompromising core that ignores science [and] isn’t particularly interested in facts or compromise.”
He added, “They are just interested in having their own way.”
The secret to better government isn’t complicated, he said: “We need a better Congress. If we create a Congress that just comes close to functioning,” the country would be much better off. In order to do that, the president said, “We need to get people to vote.”
At Seafair Friday evening, the president spent the first several minutes of his 15-minute talk to those seated at six round dinner tables recalling the accomplishments in his first six years, from the return-from-the-dead of the auto industry to health care for millions of Americans to a recovering economy. But the recovery has been much slower for “the working stiff” — the middle class that remains anxious and pessimistic, he said.
Congress needs to function better for Americans, and that can only be accomplished by electing better representatives. “We’ve got to restore in people that they have the power to move their government forward,” the president said.
Also with the president were Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the DCCC.
The guest list included Rhode Island’s entire Washington delegation — U.S. Senators Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representatives James Langevin and David N. Cicilline. Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, and Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop also attended.
Reed said earlier Friday on CNN that he expected to talk to Mr. Obama during his visit to Rhode Island about foreign policy matters such as the Islamic State group, ISIS, in Syria and Iraq and the situation in Ukraine.
Reed said it was important that it become a regional effort dealing with ISIS and not simply the United States.
Reed called it “very challenging — this is a time where we have to be very careful, very thoughtful, leading to decision. I mean, this is not just putting things off, it’s making sure we make decisions based on fact and hard policy on the ground, not just our best wishes and thoughts and our ideologies and slogans.”
It was Mr. Obama’s first visit to Rhode Island since 2010, a visit that made national headlines even before the president’s plane touched down, when then Democratic candidate for governor Frank T. Caprio greeted the news that Mr. Obama would not be endorsing his candidacy that day with two resounding words: “Shove it.”
Mr. Obama said then that out of respect for Chafee, his friend and former Senate colleague, seeking the office as an independent, he would stay out of the race.
Caprio, who is running for general treasurer this year, had campaign stops in Providence and Johnston Friday night but “he wishes the president and Democratic Party a successful evening,” said his spokeswoman Patti Doyle.
Seafair has played host to many high-brow social gatherings, including Bready’s 60th birthday party in 2003, when 180 guests were treated to a concert by Elton John.
Bready, now 70, has been one of the state’s leading businessmen, political donors and philanthropists. He was a long-serving CEO of Nortek Inc., a publicly traded company that manufactures residential and commercial building products.
He retired in July 2011 after 36 years, and, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, received a $5.25-million severance, $1-million lump sum, and $750,000, in other compensation. He now serves as chairman of the board of trustees at Roger Williams University.
With reports from Linda Borg and Thomas J. Morgan