CLEVELAND — News this week that Cleveland Clinic made a deal to host the first presidential debate set for late September caught many leaders by surprise, including Cleveland’s elected officials. City Hall was only given nominal notice and was not involved in the pitch.
But the first step of planning falls to the Cleveland office of the U.S. Secret Service, which will run point on creating a security plan for the September 29th event being staged on the Clinic’s campus.
Jonathan Schuck, the special agent in charge of the Cleveland office, said the Secret Service is used to working on short notice.
“We all have had things like this in our Secret Service careers,” he told 3News outside its his office in Independence. “Changes at the last second. It’s a campaign. But we will do our job, whether its two weeks, a month, two months or six months. We will be putting together a security plan and get it done. It’s not our job to pick venues, it’s our job to secure them.”
He said the Secret Service was already working with the Commission on Presidential Debates, which picks hosts cites, though the Cleveland office was not notified until a final selection was made.
“There were some reports that we were initially put out there that the U.S. Secret Service was kept in the dark – that’s totally not accurate,” he said. “With most typical venue selections, the local field office is not notified until the venue is selected officially for obvious reasons and that point, we are notified.”
Schuck said that his office is now working with the Cleveland Police Department, the Cleveland Clinic, University Circle Police, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department and Ohio Highway Patrol, among others.
Schuck said demonstrators will not be allowed inside the security perimeter they plan to set around the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion, which is a collaboration with Case Western Reserve University and part of the Clinic’s Health Education Campus.
“Protesting always happens at events, so we will have a security plan in place for that,” he said. “We don’t want to interfere with anyone’s constitutional rights. They will be able to protest outside that security perimeter, but we just hope everything will be peaceful.”
Schuck said no decision has been made on whether demonstrators will be restricted to designated protest zones. In 2016, the city of Cleveland and U.S. Secret Service initially set up protest zones far from the Rocket Mortgage Field House (then Quicken Loans Arena), which was the site of the Republican National Convention. Legal challenges forced the city to allow demonstrators to get closer to the event.