BANGOR, Maine — As Bangor prepares to host presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the midst of a contentious — and at times violent — campaign season, both sides are calling for his supporters and protesters to be respectful.
Bangor-area residents and officials chimed in on the eve of Trump’s rally in what could be a key battleground in the coming election, with some arguing he’s the country’s best option, and others saying he would take the nation in the wrong direction.
The rally carries big implications in Maine, which is one of just two states in the nation that potentially could split its electoral votes. Bangor is in the state’s 2nd District, which is considered far more conservative than the liberal-leaning southern portion of the state.
Bangor City Councilor David Nealley, who will be among the crowd at the Cross Insurance Center to hear Trump speak, said he’s not thrilled about the options this election.
“You sort of just have to grind your teeth and just be hopeful that if you’re going to support Trump, he’s going to moderate his positions a little bit,” Nealley, the most conservative member of the council, said on the eve of Trump’s appearance.
He said that behind Trump’s “aggressive rhetoric” are real issues that need to be addressed — border security, economic struggles, unemployment — and while the solutions are elusive, something can be done to improve those situations. Maybe a wall on the border isn’t the answer, but at least it is an attempt to address a problem.
“I cannot, in good conscience, vote for Hillary,” Nealley said, referring to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.“I find her to be despicable.”
He cited “lies and deceit” from Clinton surrounding her response to the Benghazi attack and her email scandal.
Whereas Trump made his fortune in the private sector, Clinton made hers as part of the political establishment, Nealley argued. He said many Americans are fed up with entrenched politicians, so having “something different” in Trump becomes “very appealing.”
One of Nealley’s colleagues, City Councilor Joe Baldacci, has been a strong supporter of Clinton and an outspoken critic of Trump.
“I think he’d be taking us in the wrong direction,” Baldacci said Tuesday.
He argued that the country has been improving economically and socially since 2009, and Trump could undo a lot of that work by damaging foreign relations with racially charged rhetoric.
“I think he’s a good showman, but I’m not sure about the substance,” Baldacci said.
After hearing Monday afternoon that Trump had planned a rally in Bangor, David Patrick, a graduate student in social work at the University of Maine and a Bangor resident, recalled his gut reaction.
“Within three seconds, I pictured myself in that building, being assaulted or taunted or harassed,” said Patrick, 30. “There’s no way anyone there would not assume I wasn’t there to cause trouble. I wouldn’t be welcome because I am a black person.”
Patrick, who also works for Penobscot Community Health Care and as the graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Student Life at UMaine, believes that for people of color and for other minorities, it’s not necessarily Trump himself that disturbs them — it’s his supporters.
“The overwhelming feeling from people of color is that we are more uncomfortable with his supporters than with Trump himself,” said Patrick. “I just assume [Trump] wants to be president, and he figured out which people would be most susceptible to an outburst of negativity. … It’s the people that believe in what he says and follow him that makes me very uncomfortable. I’ve never seen a candidate do so well preaching on regression, rather than progress.”
Larry Doughty, a former Brewer city councilor, is a strong supporter of Trump. He backs Trump’s belief that the U.S. should bar immigration of Muslims from “countries where terrorists are born” to make America safer.
“[Trump] is up and down on some issues,” Doughty said. “At this point, I don’t care what he says, I just want to see him in the White House.”
Doughty said Clinton is a crook and he views Trump as a far better alternative.
While Trump is “kind of brash,” Doughty believes the candidate’s positions and rhetoric will soften after he wins the election.
“They all say things to get ahead,” Doughty said, “but I don’t believe he’s got a dishonest bone in his body.”
Bangor’s most famous resident, author Stephen King, expressed disdain for the GOP candidate in an email to the Bangor Daily News in response to a request for comment on Trump’s visit.
“You ask me what troubles me the most about Trump. Easier to say what doesn’t trouble me: come November 9th [the day after the election], he’ll be going back to his gold-plated New York penthouse instead of to the people’s house in Washington. That one probably isn’t grand enough for him, anyway,” wrote King, one of more than 400 writers who signed a petition opposing Trump’s candidacy last month.
Political campaign events, fueled by intense rhetoric, have been heated this year, at times erupting into violence and verbal skirmishes between supporters and opponents of various candidates.
Bangor Police Department spokesman Sgt. Tim Cotton said Tuesday that the department is prepared for what could be a sizable rally, and he has had meetings with the Secret Service to plan for the event.
“We’re going to be involved,” he said. “We’ll have a contingent of officers at the Cross Center tomorrow throughout the day.”
Cotton said police anticipate protesters will gather outside the rally, and the department will designate spots outside the Cross Center where they can assemble.
“We hope people will come and show respect for each other,” Cotton said, adding that if someone breaks the law at the event, they will be charged.
Because Wednesday’s rally is a ticketed event, people who disrupt the rally may be asked to leave and will be escorted from the venue, either by members of Trump’s security detail or Bangor police officers, Cotton said. He said he didn’t anticipate any major problems at the event.
Cotton, who manages the department’s hugely popular Facebook page, frequently ends his posts with the phrase “keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone and be kind to one another.”
“If everyone follows the Facebook sign-off, everyone will have a good time,” he said.
Baldacci and Nealley echoed that call.
“Very few minds will be changed by this appearance,” Baldacci said. “So I think it’s important that we respect each other.”
Tickets elusive for some
In order to register for tickets for Wednesday’s rally, attendees must have both a cellphone and an email address. In a state that has one of the oldest populations in the country, and for a candidate whose demographic tends to skew older, this has presented a problem for some senior citizens who have neither a cellphone nor an email address, but wish to attend.
Barbara McDade, director of the Bangor Public Library, said patrons without cellphones called the library all morning looking for assistance with acquiring tickets.
“If you have a cellphone and all you need is an email address, we’d certainly be able to show people how to sign up for an email account,” said McDade. “But you have to have a cellphone to receive a text message [confirmation], and if you don’t have one, we just don’t know how to overcome that problem at the moment. It’s unfortunate.”
Some Trump opponents haven’t had problems accessing tickets. On social media, several area residents boasted that they had acquired the free online tickets in protest and had no intention of attending the event. The hope was to ensure there will be empty seats.
Nealley and Baldacci criticized that tactic, calling it “juvenile.”
Good for the city
Trump, who last month received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, had appeal for Rick Lozier, a Bradford resident and manager at Van Raymond Outfitters, a hunting and fishing supply store and firearms dealer in Brewer. Lozier said he didn’t really care for either presumptive presidential nominee, but that Trump was preferable to Clinton.
“I’d vote for Trump over [Clinton] any day of the week. I kind of wish he’d get a little more down to earth and say something of substance … but I like that he’s honest. I don’t think Hillary is at all trustworthy or honest,” said Lozier.
Allan Hewey, who with his wife, Leeanne, owns both the Charles Inn in downtown Bangor and the Vacationland Inn in Brewer, said that while he’s a registered Republican, he doesn’t care what side of the aisle his customers land on — he’s happy to take their business either way.
“During the primaries we were the headquarters for the Hillary campaign. We’re a business. We don’t care one way or the other,” said Hewey. “The Hillary thing was great, and it’s the same way with Trump. I hope it brings a lot of people in town, and I hope hotels will see an upswing. … We always get a few rooms out of most every event at the Cross Center.”
Hewey also said that he thinks any political event is good for the city.
“It’s good to hear from every political person, because it’s good for citizens to realize they’re important enough for someone to come here,” said Hewey.
BDN Metro Editor Michael J. Dowd contributed to this report