Celebrity real estate mogul Donald J. Trump received a warm welcome in Lancaster on Friday, delivering his assessment of the state of the Empire State and throwing in sound bites about the state’s “lightweight” attorney general and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “stupid” tax plan.
Trump, 67, spoke for 30 minutes to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 people at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens, saying positive things about the tea party and talking about his successful business ventures, his opposition to the SAFE Act and his position in favor of hydraulic fracturing.
And while those in attendance said they liked what they heard, he kept them in suspense about whether he will run for governor.
“It smells good, but it’s not soup yet,” said Steve Barnhoorn, who drove 90 miles from Ontario County. “I’m not sure he’s a candidate.”
Kim Bowers, president of the Erie County Federation of Republican Women, appreciated that Trump spoke about his daughter, Ivanka, and said she thinks he has the business sense to run the state.
“He seems to be genuinely interested in us as a party and us as a state,” Bowers said.
New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox, who has previously shown strong support for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, had a different message after Trump’s speech.
“I thought it was very well done,” Cox said. “We now have two very good candidates.”
Sean O’Neil, a county committee member from the Town of Tonawanda, said he walked in not knowing if Trump will be a candidate, and he walked out with the same question.
“It didn’t sound like a candidate stump speech,” O’Neil said. “I’m not convinced he’s running, maybe he is.”
Frank Orlikowski, a registered Democrat from Cheektowaga, said the speech hit the right themes about jobs, taxes, and people leaving the state, and was well-delivered.
“Anything he said about New York state is absolutely true,” Orlikowski said.
Donald York, a Newstead council member, said Trump would have enough issues to run on if he decides to do so.
“He summed it up,” York said. “We’re the Empire State. We’re not the Empire State right now.”
State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, said Trump hit on the right issues. “I think he brings a lot of positives to the table,” he said.
Trump took the stage just beyond the large Valentine’s display and the mirrored lobby, and beneath the crystal chandeliers that are part of the over-the-top decor for which Salvatore’s is known. He appeared to be enjoying himself, delivering the speech without notes, and showed off his ability to master the sound bite, calling Cuomo’s plan to invest $225 million to attract 850 clean-energy jobs to a remediated brownfield in South Buffalo “another Solyndra disaster.”
He wasn’t shy about talking about his own high-profile projects while attacking Cuomo on plans for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which he predicted would be a “disaster.”
He called Central Park’s Wollman Rink, which his company runs, “the most successful rink anywhere in the world.”
He criticized the state’s uneven tax rates and Cuomo’s Start-Up NY tax break program, which he called a “stupid plan.”
He also said, “I’m the king of tax abatement” and said he has used them many times.
He called Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who is suing Trump, a “lightweight.”
Trump has met privately with top New York Republicans and has granted numerous media interviews, but Friday’s speech was one of the first times a wider audience has seen him in person speaking about New York politics.
Trump arrived in Buffalo aboard his luxury Boeing 757, and at 5:30 p.m. greeted a VIP audience that had paid $500 per couple for a photo opportunity with the “Celebrity Apprentice” star.
It is no political accident that Trump would choose Erie County for one of his first high-profile appearances among the party faithful.
Erie County’s Republican Committee represents 11.5 percent of the weighted vote at the GOP’s state convention in May, a major piece of the support Trump would need if he seeks the party’s designation to run.
Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy doesn’t endorse candidates until they’ve announced, but said he has been “helpful” to Trump and Astorino,.
Trump has made clear that he does not want to compete in a Republican primary, and Langworthy said he, too, wants to avoid one.
“I want party unity, the county chairs want party unity, and one singular candidate so we can focus on a general election and not screw around with a primary, which is going to cost us precious resources and time,” Langworthy said.
Trump’s address began a little after 6 p.m. Tickets to the dinner ranged from $75 for Erie County Republican Committee members to $175 per couple.
The sold-out event was the party committee’s largest ever, Langworthy said. At least seven county chairs in addition to Langworthy attended.
It was organized in just 12 days, and Trump did not charge for his appearance. Langworthy did not know Friday evening how much the event had raised.
Before he made his way in the door, he was greeted by about 50 supporters who had not paid to be at the fundraiser, some dressed in tri-corner hats and many waving signs opposing the SAFE Act, a piece of gun-control legislation that has galvanized Second Amendment supporters.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, a Democrat, said on Twitter he “doesn’t have a real issue” with Trump but he doubts he will run. Poloncarz said Cuomo “deserves the full support” of Erie County because of Cuomo’s attention and financial support for Western New York.