News & Politics

Secret Service and District Government to Talk It Out Over Motorcades

City officials got angry this week when the Secret Service shut down a critical downtown roadway.

The facts of life. Photograph by Flickr user Eric Fidler.

DC Mayor Vince Gray, congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and the US Secret Service got into an epistolary shouting match after the Secret Service shut down several blocks of 14th St., NW, downtown DC this week. Gray fired off a letter yesterday, complaining that it made the post-snowstorm commute particularly hellish for drivers trying to travel between the District and Northern Virginia.

The road closure was connected to the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in town for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention, and staying at the Willard Hotel. Ordinarily, a dignitary like Netanyahu would stay at Blair House, but the White House’s official guest quarters are being renovated.

But to Gray’s consternation, the Secret Service gave the District very little advance warning of the three-day road closure. “I appreciate that important dignitaries visiting the nation’s capital and the White House must be afforded every courtesy and protection available by the United States government and local jurisdictions,” the mayor wrote. “However, I do not understand why the Secret Service insists on dignitaries staying in a hotel that results in significant portions of downtown Washington being paralyzed by traffic.”

Tuesday’s closures caused a torrent of angry phone calls into city agencies. “This was very crippling,” Gray’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro says of losing access to 14th St. “It’s one of the leading intakes and outtakes between the city and Northern Virginia.”

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson responded promptly, sending a letter back to Gray striking a conciliatory tone. “They’re willing to work with the city,” Ribeiro says of the letter.

But even after Pierson sent her letter, Norton jumped into the ring, slamming the Secret Service for imposing a “unilateral” street closure.

“I was astonished and distressed to learn of the unusually extensive street closures of major downtown thoroughfares for extended periods of time, over a period of three days,” she writes in a statement. “Had the Secret Service consulted with the appropriate city officials, a plan could have been developed that would not have paralyzed the city and region.  We are very grown up in this city about the need for closures and protection of highly placed U.S. officials and foreign dignitaries. However, DC is not a fiefdom to be subjected to the dictatorship of the Secret Service or any other federal agency.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.