GREETING Supervisor David Rabbitt, current chair of the Board of Supervisors, greets Vice President Jill Biden on Jan. 18 while Supervisor James Gore and his wife Elizabeth, at left, wait their turn.

A little after 2pm on Thursday, Jan. 18, the private, unmarked Gulfstream Aviator zipped to a landing at the Sonoma County Airport, and taxied back to the Sonoma Jet Center terminal.

When the small jet wheezed to a stop it was met by an official Sonoma County delegation—David Rabbit, chair of the Board of Supervisors, and 4th District Supervisor James Gore with his wife, “Hello Alice” entrepreneur Elizabeth Gore.

The plane disgorged about 20 people—most of them in casual business suits, a few less well turned out—before Jill Biden, First Lady of the United States, emerged resplendent in a dusty rose pantsuit.

BRIEF WAVE First Lady Jill Biden gave the briefest of waves to the press corral at her Sonoma County Airport arrival on Jan. 18, 2024. Supervisor David Rabbitt stands behind her.

She made her way carefully down the airplane’s staircase, gripping the handrail and watching her feet, and when she finally hit solid ground and turned to accept the local luminaries’ greetings the reason for her hesitant descent was made clear: She wore a pair of J’Adior slingback pumps, with 4-inch spike heels and a floral textile pattern that complemented her pantsuit.

Chair Rabbitt grabbed her hand and made a brief, sincere welcome-to-Sonoma speech, then Gore took his turn. “She was great,” the district supervisor said. “She stood there for enough time and wanted a little authenticity. You never know if you’re just going to have a handshake and a ‘Thanks for having us here.’”

As the supervisors and the First Lady spoke, two marksmen on the terminal building 100 yards away trained high-powered weapons on the gaggle enclosed in the press pen, just in case.

But Gore had more to say: “I said, on behalf of all of us who are serving [in government], ‘Thank you for the weight you carry. Thank you for the burden, for dealing with the hate.’” He told her about the hate mail and harassment that even county supervisors deal with these days—Gore himself has a restraining order against one person who has physically threatened him and his family.

“And then think about what it’s like to deal with that and try to hold together, like, an entire country at a time when people are trying to break things down,” he recounted. “So, that was my message. She stopped and just said, ‘Thank you. That’s exactly what we feel that we’re doing.’”

On to Healdsburg

From there, Biden and her aides disappeared into the convoy of a half-dozen vehicles headed for Healdsburg.

A couple of blocks into the route, at Skylane and Airport boulevards, a group of about 30 demonstrators from Sonoma County for Palestine held signs protesting the death toll in Gaza, and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The First Lady’s convoy continued on its way north on Highway 101 to the Lytton Springs exit, thereby bypassing the city itself. It drove up to the hillside home of Tony Crabb and Barbara Grasseschi for a by-invitation-only mixer of potential donors to the Biden campaign. Crabb and Grasseschi have hosted similar events in the past—including one for Kamala Harris—but a First Lady is something special.

Two members of the Healdsburg City Council were invited to the event, Vice Mayor Evelyn Mitchell and former mayor, Ariel Kelley. “Dr. Biden was lovely and charismatic,” Kelley said afterward, using the honorific of the First Lady’s doctorate in education. “Having the First Lady here in Healdsburg was such an honor, I did not want to miss it. She was poised, funny and sincere.”

SECURITY Armed personnel keep a sharpshooter’s eye on the arrival of Jill Biden, First Lady of the United States, at Sonoma County Airport on Jan. 18, 2024

Mitchell said, “I was happy and honored to be at the fundraising gathering. I have known Barbara and Tony for many years, and they have included me on their invitation list for events in the past. Of course, their property is stunning. The views are unbelievable, and even the weather cooperated. I jumped at the chance to attend this event.”

Kelley, who is currently running for the Second Assembly District seat being vacated by Jim Wood, listed the benefits that have come to places like Healdsburg from the administration’s support for infrastructure, inflation reduction and clean energy, among other priorities.

“Partisanship aside, Biden has delivered for our cities across this country in meaningful ways, and steered us through some very tumultuous times,” Kelley said.

Mitchell also described the view, Crabb and Grasseschi’s hospitality, the appetizers and white wine, and the “polite but low-key” security at the event.

“You could actually feel the buzz as more Secret Service agents came in and stood at the perimeter … we knew Dr. Biden had arrived,” Mitchell recalled. “She is very beautiful (as were her shoes!), well spoken and delivered a very important message. She reminded us of the accomplishments of President Biden and what is at stake with this election. Her message, however, was hopeful and respectful. I was definitely inspired by her words.”

In her remarks, the First Lady asked attendees to remember how they felt the day after the 2016 election, when Donald Trump was elected president. (She did not speak his name Thursday.) The recollection drew groans from the liberal-leaning audience.

“I don’t want to wake up again the next morning and say, ‘Oh, we should have started earlier. We should have done this differently, we should have done that,’” Biden said. “No. We have to begin right now. We have to meet this moment as if our rights are at stake—because they are. As if democracy is at stake—because it is.”

“The event went smoothly, I was happy with it,” Barbara Grasseschi said afterward. “All my guests were delighted to see and hear from the First Lady, and left energized about the upcoming election.”

CARAVAN First Lady Jill Biden’s entourage travels on Chiquita Road in Healdsburg following her meeting with potential donors at Puma Springs Vineyard. (Rick Tang Photo)

On to Ohio

A bit after 4pm, the First Lady’s convoy came down the long driveway to Chiquita Road, where a county sheriff deputy stood between the caravan and the chanting members of the same Sonoma County for Palestine demonstrators (“Cease Fire Now!”) who had followed the caravan to Healdsburg. Now, for the second time, they made their presence known with signs, song and chants.

The black Chevy Suburbans headed north on Chiquita Road to Lytton Springs, and from there back to Highway 101 and the Sonoma County Airport.

The Gulfstream took off in the day’s final light, headed back to Los Angeles for the night before continuing to another fundraiser, this one in Ohio. Following that, the First Lady joined her husband the president in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where they have a home.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2012, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.

1 COMMENT

  1. “The plane disgorged about 20 people” Christian Kallen. Yeah, I’d say “disgorged” is the operative word. The unmarked Gulfstream costs $43.5 million to buy and $15/mile to operate. I hope those snipers didn’t get too uncomfortable up there on the roof pointing their rifles at Sonomans.
    I suppose the Trump supporters are doing the same thing for Orange Man somewhere.
    Let’s bring back the bow and curtsey for nobles and the tugging of the forelock for us peasants.

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