ROCHESTER, Minn. — Rochester city leaders were in the middle of a Thursday morning meeting planning for President Donald Trump's campaign rally when they received a call saying it would be held elsewhere, Mayor Kim Norton said.
"We thought an agreement had been reached, or an understanding, and that a contract was ready to be signed for the use of the airport," Norton said Thursday afternoon, Oct. 29. "Everything seemed to be going well."
Then a call from the Trump campaign came to tell the city they'd found another venue. Trump is now planning to hold a rally at McNeilus Steel in Dodge Center, Minn., Friday afternoon, Oct. 30.
It was previously announced Wednesday that Trump's rally would be at Rochester International Airport.
McNeilus Steel Chief Operating Officer Glenn Sylvester confirmed the event location during a Thursday interview with Minnesota Public Radio and said that they would enforce social distancing requirements as best they can, but wouldn't say if they would cap the event at 250 people as state COVID-19 protection rules require. Sylvester did not return an email or a voicemail sent by Forum News Service.
An email shared on social media appearing to be from Sylvester to McNeilus staff said 25,000 are expected to attend Friday's event.
Norton said the city was "doing what most of the other cities I am aware of have been doing": asking that candidates who visit abide by state health requirements.
She said that during the city planning meeting Thursday morning, they were working to use the state's guidelines that allowed for larger groups to attend in a safe way by following guidelines similar to sporting events.
Although the event will no longer be in Rochester, the president is still expected to land and take off from Rochester International Airport.
Norton said she has mixed feelings about the rally moving elsewhere in the region.
"On the one hand, if we had been able to move ahead and have a safely spaced and controlled event at the airport, that would have been great. There would have been some assurance that we had done our due diligence in keeping people safe," she said. "Even though it is not in the City of Rochester, it is in the region and we have been trying so hard to not have happen to us what is happening to the states surrounding us.
"The concerns about this has never been about the political part of it. It has been about the public health part of it and those do last. Those corners are still there, it's just not under our control."
Campaign events are expected to adhere to state guidelines for gathering, masking and distancing. Keeping people safe from covid is vital during this time of increased spread & it is paramount that we protect our healthcare workers and community. #beresponsible
Campaign events are expected to adhere to state guidelines for gathering, masking and distancing. Keeping people safe from covid is vital during this time of increased spread & it is paramount that we protect our healthcare workers and community. #beresponsible— Kim Norton (@MayorNorton) October 28, 2020
Bill Kuisle, a Republican Party of Olmsted County leader, said he had been hearing rumblings since Wednesday that the Trump campaign was looking for a different venue.
News reports say that Trump didn't want to adhere to the 250-person limit at the Rochester airport that city officials were insisting upon. But Kuisle saw the clash between the city and the Trump campaign as driven more by politics than the virus.
"The dumbest part of the whole thing is that it probably would have been just a couple of hundred people (attending the rally). Now that this is turning into a stink, you're going to see a whole more people showing up," Kuisle said.
Norton stressed that the City of Rochester did not ask the campaign to leave or tell them they could not hold the rally at the airport.
"In fact, the opposite was true. We were doing everything we could to help them hold a safe event at our airport. I don’t know the reason. We weren’t given an explanation, just that they found another place," she said. We did not say they could not come. We did say they needed to hold a safe event and we were working with them to do that in a very congenial way."