Read related stories
NAPLES — Joe Biden’s days of island living Keewaydin-style are done — for now.
The vice president spent about 48 hours on the barrier island between Naples and Marco Island, with his wife, Jill Biden, at a house Biden’s brother, James Biden Sr., and his wife, Sara Jones Biden, of Merion Station, Pa., bought in late December.
By all accounts, the Biden clan kept to itself on the popular boaters’ island hangout where neighbors are few and the nearest houses are long, sandy walks away.
A heavy waterborne security presence at the Biden place has been the only sign that it hasn’t been a run-of-the-mill new year on Keewaydin Island so far.
At about 10 a.m. Friday, three boats from the U.S. Coast Guard and boats from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Marine Patrol zipped Biden to the Isles of Capri fire station dock, where he was whisked away in a motorcade of shiny black Chevy Suburbans. His wife wasn’t spotted with him.
The White House said the two had traveled together to Keewaydin Island on New Year’s Day and were leaving Southwest Florida together Friday.
As Biden bid farewell to his island hosts, a boatload of picnickers on their way to the southern end of the island got too close to the house and were shooed away by a security officer in another boat.
“He had a smile on his face,” said Susan Estes, 46, visiting from California.
At first, the boaters thought they had violated some boating law. Or had run over a manatee. Then they thought they had stumbled into a drug bust. They didn’t figure out until later it was Biden.
“I don’t think we would have recognized him,” said Christianne Adkins, 31, of Naples.
Rookery Bay preserve volunteers Joe and Sandy Norton were on the Gulf side of the island picking up trash Friday morning when they noticed two men with guns standing guard in the brush at the Biden house, one of them eating a banana.
“It didn’t seem like a lot of activity,” said Joe Norton, 73.
The couple collected the usual trash, including a champagne bottle and beer cans, but Biden’s beach was clean, they said. A couple dozen blue chairs were scattered around a fire pit and on a beachfront deck Friday.
The owner of Capri Fish House restaurant is familiar with the Biden brother’s Keewaydin Island home.
Mike Castellano helped refurbish the stilt house on 5 acres in recent months and was on site in December when it was shown to prospective buyers or their agents. He didn’t know the Bidens were among them.
Castellano, 53, speculates the purchase was really for the vice president so he can establish a presence in this part of the state — a Republican stronghold — to help with a presidential bid.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Florida is a big swing state. If you can get a V.P. to move here or spend more time here, it is likely to get more (supporters) from Florida. That’s my opinion.”
For certain, he said, the house was snapped up quickly after it was shown in mid-December. Property records show the deal closed Dec. 23.
“It’s a wonderful house,” he said. “It was designed to be a party house. The idea behind it was to do weddings there.”
The five-bedroom, three-bath house was built in 1996 but he said it sat vacant for the last few years. He was hired by the previous owner to clean up the grounds and fix what was broken inside or neglected.
“We were bringing life into the house,” said Theresa Castellano, his wife. “It was dead for three years.”
Mike Castellano said he had ideas of leasing it for events starting Jan. 1 to help the owner.
“And then the owner called us and said he got an offer,” Castellano said, but added he doesn’t mind since the vice president’s family is enjoying it.
“I think it’s kind of cool,” he said. “But why wouldn’t you sneak (the vice president) here to the island in the middle of the night? I’m sure they had their reasons.”
The Capri Fish House is next door to the fire department station and its dock, where the U.S. Secret Service set up shop before Biden’s visit, transporting him to and from Keewaydin using U.S. Coast Guard vessels.
Isles of Capri winter resident Chuck Jennings wasn’t pleased the vice president was a distraction to the quiet community with its entourage of Secret Service and law enforcement officers, which blocked traffic flow when he was moving along Capri Boulevard and elsewhere.
“I have a problem with the busiest time on the island and the vice president comes and disrupts everything,” Jennings, 74, said. “But I believe in protection and you’ve got to protect him, but it is a huge inconvenience. This is a sleepy little overshadow of Marco Island.”
Others took the coming and going of the vice president in stride.
“I’m proud of where I live because he felt safe,” said Liz Lombardi, a resident who created the Florida Go Fishing website to promote the region’s amenities. “It’s pretty cool. It hasn’t bothered me.”
* * * * *
The Vice President left Isle of Capri at 10:07 and was whisked away. The road was not closed and only a handful of onlookers stood across the street.
Isles of Capri winter resident Chuck Jennings hasn't been pleased that the vice president has been a distraction to the quiet community.
"I have a problem with the busiest time on the island and the vice president comes and disrupts everything," Jennings, 74, said. "But I believe in protection and you've got to protect him, but it is a huge inconvenience. This is a sleepy little overshadow of Marco Island."
All is quiet so far this morning on Isle of Capri Fire Department, which continues to host the U.S. Secret Service because of Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Keewaydin Island.
The expectation is that Biden will board a boat from his brother's home on Keewaydin and motor to the fire department's dock. The unknown is when that will happen.
"You've got a large contingency of police and Secret Service vehicles here but we have no idea what time (Biden will arrive)," Fire Chief Alan McLaughlin said.
Similar to New Year's Day when the Vice President arrived along Capris Boulevard in the early afternoon, McLaughlin expects the road will be shutdown to the public.