SALISBURY, Md. — President Trump phoned Tangier Island Mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge Monday after viewing a CNN report about the Virginia island's struggle with rising sea levels.
"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.'"
During the CNN interview, Eskridge had said he loved Trump as much as he would a family member. When staffers brought the CNN report to Trump's attention, "he said, 'I've just got to talk to that guy,'" the mayor said.
In Monday's call, 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."
The island in the Chesapeake Bay is a Republican stronghold — about 87% of residents voted for Trump in the November 2016 election.
Still, erosion is one of the islanders' main concerns. The island, population about 450, is losing up to 16 feet of coastline 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.
"We're taking it a step at a time," Eskridge said Monday.
Eskridge mentioned to Trump that the island had received "negative feedback" from the CNN story, which reported "residents here are extremely scared that if something isn't done soon, their homes and livelihoods will be washed away by the Chesapeake Bay. "
He said the president 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 Tangier dialect some say dates to 17th-century England.
Most of the island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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.
That impressed the mayor, as did the White House efforts to get him on the phone.
Eskridge said he 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 said he told the president, "The stuff you are doing is just common-sense stuff. 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 believe you came along for such a time as this."
Eskridge said Trump told him 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.
"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.
"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,'" Eskridge said.
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.'"
Follow Carol Vaughn on Twitter: @cvvaughnESN