About 75 Donald Trump supporters — many of them wearing masks with an Italian flag and the words Save Columbus — squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder into the campaign’s Northeast Philadelphia office Monday night to hear former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani make a case for the president.
The crowd at the rally billed as Italians for Trump fawned over Giuliani — “Next mayor of Philadelphia — Rudy!” yelled one attendee — who emphasized the importance of Pennsylvania for the president’s reelection.
“You know how important your state was last time?” he asked.
The event was originally scheduled to occur in a much larger space — the 15,000-square-foot 2300 Arena — but the campaign was forced to relocate when the arena’s owners canceled Sunday night after finding out the event was a Trump rally.
Co-owner Christy Bottie said the event had been described as a private fund-raiser for a local politician. She said she didn’t want to host any event that might jeopardize her business.
“There’s just a whole lot of things that come with a Trump rally,” Bottie said, mentioning potential protesters and COVID risks.
The arena, which often hosts boxing matches and other sporting events, hosted the Republican National Committee for a counter-convention back in 2016 when the Democratic National Convention was in town.
The Trump campaign sent an email to attendees saying Mayor Jim Kenney had “intervened” and shut down the event. A Kenney spokesperson said the city Public Health Department called the 2300 Arena’s owners to remind them of the city mandates around indoor events, which must be limited to fewer than 25 people. Bottie said she and her co-owner made the final call not to do the event.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about how the hall was reserved.
At the event in Northeast Philadelphia, Giuliani spoke off the cuff about issues such as the Democratic Party being “controlled” by Black Lives Matter and what he described as the president’s outstanding handling of the “Chinese Communist virus.”
“People don’t die of this disease anymore,” he said, adding that Democrats were overblowing COVID because they wanted to frighten people.
Coronavirus cases are on the rise again in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. There have been more than 214,000 reported coronavirus deaths in the United States.
Giuliani railed against calls to “defund" the police, blaming Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner for the city’s homicide rate, which is already higher than last year’s.
“It’s not your cops, it’s your DA,” he said. “You have a DA who should be in jail.” The crowd erupted.
Pennsylvania Democrats slammed the event as “noise."
The rally "is just another sad attempt by the Trump campaign to distract from their terrible economy and ongoing war on our health care,” said State Sen. Sharif Street in a statement.
Midday, Giuliani made an impromptu appearance at the boarded-up Christopher Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia, railing against Democratic stances on abortion rights, taxes, and the economy. City officials have proposed moving the statue, which has become a magnet for protests and counterprotests during the national reckoning over racism and the commemoration of divisive historical figures. The move is tied up in court.
Monday was a study in campaign contrasts, with Trump holding a Columbus Day event and Joe Biden putting out a statement declaring it “Indigenous People’s Day.”
“With boundless resilience and strength, despite centuries of mistreatment and broken promises, Tribal Nations have fought to preserve their sovereign rights while also making countless contributions to strengthen the character of the United States,” Biden said. “It is a part of our history that every American must learn and respect.”
Former Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta, a cohost of the Trump event Monday evening, said: "I think it’s great that the president is celebrating Columbus Day and protecting this holiday that’s been under attack. You have one president who wants to protect Columbus Day as a national holiday and protect our statues and Joe Biden wanting to tear them down and declaring today ‘Indigenous Peoples Day.’”
Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.