Wildwood rally: Mayor wants reimbursement for Trump rally cleanup, policing
U.S. Secret Service would not allow certain items inside the Wildwoods Convention Center Tuesday Jan. 28, 2020. The Courier-Post
Wildwood — a sandy-shored beach-and-bar town — could lose its cows in the Green New Deal, President Trump remarked at his Jersey Shore campaign rally Tuesday night.
There was even less to be green about outside the Wildwoods Convention Center, where tons of items — chairs, blankets, food and drinks — were left behind in queue where Trumpers camped out for two days to get inside the venue.
Items prohibited inside the 7,500-seat hall remained on the venue's grounds until either snatched up by scavengers or trashed by city public works Wednesday, according to Mayor Pete Byron.
"We knew it was going to be a mess. We just didn't know to what degree," Byron told the Courier Post Wednesday.
"This goes back to what I've been saying ... I don't believe, because of the nature of the event, the city should have to pay for any extra-curricular cost for this."
The Donald J. Trump campaign announced in early January it booked the boardwalk convention center for its rally, a move, in part, to welcome South Jersey's U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew to the Republican Party. Van Drew was elected to the seat as a Democrat in 2018. In December, he went GOP to Trump's well-publicized delight.
A week before the rally, Byron, a freshly sworn-in Democrat mayor, has said he would request reimbursement from the Trump campaign for municipal services to police during and cleanup after the campaign event.
There are a "huge amount of positives" from the event, including the national exposure for a tourist town, the mayor said.
"I was very very appreciative," he continued.
But the cost of the Secret Service-required policing for the Presidential visit, including paid help from departments along the Jersey shore, and trash cleanup from the days-long parking lot camp-out are not in the city's budget, the mayor maintained.
Because candidate Trump is a sitting U.S. president, the U.S. Secret Service choreographed all security for the event and prohibited a number of items.
Transportation Security Administration personnel searched small backpacks that were allowed inside and conducted pat downs before attendees walked through metal detectors at the gates, according to Pete Garibaldi, one of the first Trump supporters in line and allowed inside the venue.
Garibaldi, from Hunterton County, had a front-row, standing-room spot in the arena. He camped in line with a several others since Monday evening.
When crowds cleared the area after the rally Tuesday night, few appeared to have gone back to retrieve their own items in lines.
At 9:30 p.m., the Courier Post watched as a half-dozen people picked through piles of blankets and plastic bags, and examined camping and beach chairs left behind.
"The vast majority of people who came were expecting, 'we're going to get the worst beach chair out of our garage, and a raggedy old blanket we can do without' because they were going to leave it there," Byron explained.
But who's responsible for picking up those rickety chairs and thread-bare blankets?
The city, Byron noted, put out a call to all local service groups who may need blankets, sleeping bags and tents that could be cleaned up and redistributed to locals in need.
If it wasn't picked up within several hours of the start of business Wednesday, it was going to be trashed by public works, Byron said.
"A local business guy went there with a truck and took a whole slew of chairs," the mayor reported.
Byron confirmed social media reports that the area was debris free by early Wednesday afternoon.
He's still following through on a reimbursement request from the Trump campaign for the man hours to police, assembling white barricades directing lines, and policing.
"This was not a city-promoted event. This was a political rally choreographed by the Secret Service," the mayor said.
The Trump campaign paid $7,500 — the standard Wildwoods Convention Center rental rate — to put on the rally, according to Ben Rose, spokesman for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority based at the venue.
Other expenses, including man hours for lighting and stage set-up, are expected to be billed to the campaign after the event, he said.
Sarah Matthews, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Byron said it would be a month before the cost to the city is fully tallied.
"We'll do our best to try to reach out to the local Republican party to see if we can get reimbursed," Byron said.
"We'll give it a shot."
Carly Q. Romalino is a Gloucester County native who's covered South Jersey since 2008. She's a Rowan University graduate and a six-time New Jersey Press Association award winner.
She is the Courier Post's "watch dog," taking deep dives into matters throughout the region.
Help support local journalism with a subscription to the Courier Post.