President Trump phoned Tangier Island (Md.) Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, after viewing a CNN report about the island’s erosion problem.
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The President of the United States took time out of his schedule Monday afternoon to place a telephone call to Tangier Island Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, after viewing a CNN report about the island that aired last week.
Produced by Megan Raymond
The President of the United States took time out of his schedule on Monday afternoon to place a telephone call to Tangier Island Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, after viewing a CNN report about the island that aired last week.
“It was unreal,” said Eskridge. “He called around 2 o’clock this afternoon.”
Staffers brought the CNN report to Trump’s attention, Eskridge said.
The president made the call during a day when his schedule also included a National Security Council briefing and leading a cabinet meeting in the morning, and welcoming to the White House the 2016 NCAA Football National Champion Clemson Tigers in the afternoon.
Eskridge first received a call from Tangier Oyster Co. The Virginia business had been contacted by the president’s office, looking for the mayor’s home telephone number.
“So I came in from crabbing and they said I got a call — I said, ‘That’s not real.’ Anyway, I hung around. I left for a short time to go to my crab house, and then came back and I got this call and the lady says, ‘I’m with the president’s office. The president would like to know if he could speak to you. I said, ‘Yes, he sure can,’ ” Eskridge said.
Trump introduced himself and told Eskridge, “You’ve got one heck of an island there.”
Eskridge had said during the CNN interview he loved Trump as much as he would a family member.
He recounted what Trump said next.
“He said, ‘I’ve just got to talk to that guy.’ “
Eskridge told the president that Tangier Island is “a huge supporter of Donald Trump. … This is a Trump island; we really love you down here.”
Eskridge continued: “I said, ‘The stuff you are doing is just common-sense stuff.’ I said, ‘I believe you’re for the working man — and you want people to get back to work — you’re for the military, and Israel and religious liberties — It’s all the stuff that we value.’ I said, ‘I believe you came along for such a time as this.’ “
A panoramic view of Tangier Island as viewed from a ferryboat. (Photo: Staff file photo by Jeremy Cox)
Trump told Eskridge he appreciated his comments and that Tangier looks like a beautiful place.
He also invited Eskridge to visit him when he travels to Washington, D.C.
According to Eskridge, the president also addressed the issue of sea-level rise as it affects Tangier.
“He said not to worry about sea-level rise,” Eskridge said. “He said, ‘Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.’ “
The island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay is a Republican stronghold — about 87 percent of residents voted for Trump in the November 2016 election.
Still, erosion is among the islanders’ main concerns, Eskridge said in an interview last November with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
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The island, population about 450, is losing up to 16 feet of land a year, scientists say.
Islanders have been advocating for years for construction of a seawall to protect their home; a smaller project — a jetty to protect the harbor’s west entrance — is in the works and should come about in the near future.
“We’re taking it a step at a time,” Eskridge said Monday.
“The help is out there. Tangier can be saved,” Eskridge had said in the interview last fall.
“Tangier is a unique place and it’s well worth saving,” Eskridge said then.
Eskridge mentioned to Trump that the island had received “negative feedback” from the CNN story. He said Trump told him not to worry about it.
Tangier residents, many of whom work on the water, crabbing and oystering or on tugboats, are direct descendants of some of the earliest English settlers in Virginia and the old names, like Crockett, Pruitt and Eskridge, still are prevalent, as is the unique Tangier dialect some say dates to 17th-century England.
Most of the island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On this day, the little island with the long history caught the attention of the nation’s leader.
“He said, ‘Me and my family, we love you and your family and we love the citizens of Tangier Island.’ So, Donald Trump knows about Tangier Island — that’s going to be the peak of my career,” Eskridge said.
For Eskridge, Monday’s phone call was a unique experience.
“The whole time I’m talking to him, it’s just in the back of my mind — I can’t believe Donald Trump’s on the phone with me. I mean, to call a crabber out here. I’m sure he had a busy schedule here on a Monday. I thanked him for that — I said, ‘I appreciate you taking time to call me,’ ” said Eskridge.
According to the mayor, Trump returned the compliment, saying, “You’re my kind of guy. When I saw the story, I said, ‘I’ve just got to talk to the mayor of Tangier.’ “
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