After eleven interview requests at Monday night’s Trump rally in Albany, I finally hit pay dirt with Brandon LeQue, quick to talk about his years growing up in the state capital and then heading off to SUNY Oneonta. He said how much the man’s success has always inspired him. But then LeQue added that he was a Trump volunteer who started working with the candidate last year in New Hampshire, before the first primary.
A pretty woman is finishing up a pep speech from the dais, talking about how she’d first met the candidate when she was a contestant on Trump’s reality television hit, “The Apprentice.”
“So you get fired,” she is saying as I look for a non-affiliated attendee who wants to talk. “When your 15 minutes of fame has Donald Trump attached, it goes on forever and ever…He’s larger than life. You’ll see.”
It’s getting crowded in the Times Union Center, once home to an annual string of Grateful Dead concerts when it was still known as The Knickerbocker. Really crowded. Scanning those around, including one young man in a tie-dye dead t-shirt hoisting up a Trump sign, I realize I’m being scanned by others. I’ve worn the Albany press corps’ uniform for this event, as well as the Bernie rally earlier in the day, and John Kasich’s quick and relatively private pass through town. I’m wearing the press pass the Trump people insisted I keep on at all times.
Finally, as vintage Stones hits from the early 1960s start to play loud, a heavily muscled and tattooed man agrees to talk. Joseph Bagley says this is his first political rally, and the first election he plans voting in.
“He’s not taking any shit. He wants to give America back to the people,” he shouts over “Tell Me.” “He doesn’t need anyone else’s money. He won’t let the fucking Syrians in anymore. He’s not politically correct and it’s the first time I’ve believed in anyone even though I know all government is a bunch of bullshit.”
I ask Bagley if he’s given any thought to the Sanders’ campaign, noting how a third of the people I’d spoken to at his rally earlier in the day had expressed admiration for Trump, to the point where they’d vote for him if Hillary won the Democratic nomination.
“I’m not paying any attention to Bernie. He’s just telling people what they want to hear,” Bagley replies. “I’m an MMA Cage Wars heavyweight. I don’t take shit either.”
Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has taken the mic and things have gotten even louder as he says he has two simple questions to ask the crowd: Are we going to build a wall? Are we going to make the Mexicans pay for it?
The crowd goes apeshit around me, including all the slightly-liberal looking types I’d been planning to ask for interviews next. Palladino talks/yells about how things were in the fabled past, with your parents telling you to go to school and achieve, because “no one owes you anything and you make your place in the world because that was the road to the American dream.” Now no one could explain the future to a kid.
“Trump, he’s unflitered. The American establishment, they don’t know how to deal with a tough guy,” Paladino continues, blasting off on Obama, on Andrew Cuomo, the man who defeated him six years ago., and on “the treacherous media trying to control our thoughts — we’ve had enough of that! Where do they get these people? They’re no smarter than you!”
Another thunderous roar of boos and then a repeat of the wall chant and I head for the safety of the press corral, even if that’s where everyone’s aiming their ready vehemence for the moment.
“Are we mad,” Palladino asks the packed crowd, now filled up to the arena’s rafters excepting a few spots.
“Mad as hell!” the crowd replies.
“This is history. We’re throwing the bums out and that includes Albany,” he shouts back, noting how they’d get Cuomo after Obama. “We have a list. One at a time. This is how a revolution begins.”
The Albany press corps doesn’t rattle easily. That is, unless you pen them in and get a crowd yelling that they’re dumb scum while the main speakers double down with taunts and everyone starts witnessing the occasional slaps to actual protesters. As all happened at this past week’s Trump rally in the state capital’s Times Union Center.
Keeping a huddle of desks in a sprawl of rooms between the state’s two legislative chambers, up on the third floor of the fortress-like state capital, the staff journalists for the state’s top papers, Politico, and various radio and television outlets are used to politicians coming to them, including GOP third place candidate John Kasich this past Monday, or any number of assemblymen and senators and lobbyists. But they’re also good at getting out and mingling when the story requires, as happened in the crowd at Bernie Sanders loud, lively rally at the Armory, also on Monday, or at last week’s Hillary Clinton event at a school in nearby Cohoes and Ted Cruz’s rally in a church outside of Schenectady.
In the loud mix of hits by Billy Joel and more vintage Stones that preceded The Donald’s arrival on stage this past Monday night, audience members behind the press pen and camera platform started chanting at the typing journalists who dared stand to get a better view. Dozens of press handlers, the men in unobtrusive suits or jeans and t-shirt outfits, the women in snappy heels and dresses, moved photographers here and there, off stairs or anyplace else where Trump supporters yelled about being obstructed.
A voice came over the loudspeakers noting that protesters were being kept in an area outside the arena, but if any were found inside “do not touch or harm the protester…hold a sign over their head and yell ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ and law enforcement will be notified.”
Suddenly the music shifts to something recognizable from prizefights and other sporting events and Trump’s on stage and the place is rocking. The man’s bellowing how much he loves Albany, how he’s been to the city “so many times” and riffing on how far ahead of Cruz he is were it not for the press playing up the chances of a brokered convention. He points at the press pen where I’ve retreated and calls the lot of us “the most dishonest people” and the entire crowd boos.
“I’m here for one reason. To make America great again,” Trump says.
He riffs for nearly an hour, skipping between subjects with returns to themes that include the promised wall, his dealmaking prowess, his role as the biggest winner and militarist ever, and how the system’s rigged. He even brings up similarities with Bernie Sanders several times, yet in such a way as to include a chance for the crowd to loudly boo his rival. He is wildly entertaining, like a rock star without a guitar or band as he says some famous friend of his noted.
Several times the Trump shouts sound out and the candidate halts his spiel to yell, “Get him out! Get him out! Don’t hurt him, we’re not to hurt them, but get him out of here.”
One time he suggests sending a protester back to his mom. Another time he talks about how differently protesters were treated just ten years earlier.
“Is there anything more fun than a Trump rally,” he interjects several times. “This is a shame. This is OUR arena…These are my people. I love these people!”
Late in the speech Trump, most of it covering his main points with the addition of a new anger at the way delegates are lining up for this summer’s convention, he asks for a show of hands of anyone planning to NOT vote for him. A few raise their hands. Trump adds that maybe people should point to those who they feel won’t be voting for him and there’s a wave of motion as fingers get aimed around, many of them at the press pen where I stand.
“You’re going to be so proud of your country. You’re going to be so proud of your president if I get in,” he proclaims to a roar of approval. “We’re going to win so much you’re going to get sick of winning.”
“I got a call from the Sanders’ campaign last Friday night asking if we could play this event,” said singer/guitarist Joe Davis of the band Formula 5, who played two sets between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday before the warm up speakers at Bernie Sanders’ rally, including noted humorist Jim Hightower and Harlem state senator Bill Perkins. “It was good. We didn’t get paid but we’ve never played for a crowd this big.”
Asked whether he’s a Bernie supporter, Davis replied how he liked some of Sanders’ issues and he “wasn’t nasty” but he wanted to wait to make up his mind. He added that he was planning to attend the Trump rally that evening with his mom, Sue, a school teacher who deferred to her son’s statements except to note how she has found it hard to teach the state’s anti-bullying lessons with Trump running rallies as he has.
Joe Davis said he could never vote for Hillary Clinton, finding her “the worst of all the candidates” and admitting no fear of Republicans, at which point his mom added how, “I have a great fear of the one Republican.”
A few feet away from the Davises, Dan O’Sullivan held up a photo collage of Bernie Sanders he had made and been marching around the Albany Armory. He introduced his teenage daughter; the two were from one of Albany’s suburbs and talked about how they’d been turned on to Sen. Sanders by his message involving campaign reform.
“Two years ago one of my sons game me a copy of Zephyr Teachout’s book about campaign corruption,” he said. “I’ve since come up with a term — ‘The Obligarchy’ — which defines what we the people are in an oligarchy. Obligated to the oligarchs.”
He added that he was scared of the GOP.
“Bernie or bust; this is my first ever rally. I got here at 10:30 and it’s pretty damned exciting,” 40-something Chris Hacker of Albany was saying nearby. “I like his dedication to the cause, his authenticity, his judgment. I was a philosophy major in college and I feel like I could be on the right side of history being here and supporting him. I thought Obama was a beautiful spokesperson but this is different.”
Seated in the bleachers nearby, Terry Heald of Saratoga, in her sixties and among the crowd of nearly 6000 at the Armory with her brother and his daughter, said she’s registered Republican and voting for Trump in next week’s primary, but like the way Sanders is “all in for the working class.”
“I got here sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m. It’s my first ever rally,” she said. “Bernie cares about people. You can see it in his face and hear it in his voice.”
Garland Eger of Troy, tattooed and dressed in rad farmer gear, pointed out how he worked for Dennis Kucinich’s campaign in 2008, as well as “a friend’s run for mayor in Albany” before turning Libertarian for several years. Sanders’ support for Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana nationally, made him a believer years ago.
“I’ve switched back to Democrat so I can vote for Bernie next week,” he added. “But I won’t vote for Hillary or any candidate supported by the banks.”
Bob Marley music started playing loud around the arena as the press mingled among the crowd, all apparently ready to talk up their sense of excitement, their passion for Bernie Sanders.
“This is the campaign we’ve been waiting for,” said Hightower, in a ten gallon hat as the crowd cheered him on. “A candidate with an FDR-sized vision…”
“Hello Albany,” said the candidate himself, when he came out after a back room session with Black Lives matters as the others were warming up the crowd. “A raucous crowd, a very loud crowd…”