By Rashed Mian and Timothy Bolger
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is rallying Wednesday on Long Island less than two weeks before an uncharacteristically pivotal New York State primary—and authorities are bracing for a crowd of up to 13,000 people.
The GOP frontrunner, reality TV star and real estate magnate will hold the rally 7 p.m. Wednesday at Grumman Studios in Bethpage. Nassau County police said the venue can hold more than 12,000 people and up to 1,000 protesters—for and against Trump—are expected to rally outside in a “free speech zone” on South Oyster Bay Road.
“Violence will not be tolerated,” Acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter told reporters when asked how authorities are preparing for the bad behavior that has made headlines at some of Trump’s other rallies nationwide. Krumpter would not say if specific threats have been received, but warned drivers to expect major traffic delays in the HIcksville area. He said police are expecting even more protesters than the hundreds they saw at the 2008 and 2012 presidential debates at Hofstra University.
Those who get tickets to attend the rally will be required to go through metal detectors and be screened by Secret Service agents before entering the facility, the police commissioner said. No firearms will be allowed inside the venue, he noted. Grumman Road, the route to the venue, will be closed at 2 p.m. Wednesday along with South Oyster Bay Road between South Broadway and Grumman Road.
Grumman Studios and the adjoining Gold Coast Studios boast a combined 605,000 square feet of space. Grumman Studios itself is equipped with seven stages, and has played been the set of major movie productions such as The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man and several live TV broadcasts such as “Peter Pan Live” starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken. Iranian immigrant Parviz Farahzad, a real estate mogul, owns Grumman Studios.
A coalition of protesters, including African Americans, Latino groups and the political-arm of Planned Parenthood in Nassau County, have already announced plans to hold a peaceful anti-Trump rally outside the studio in response to his controversial comments seen as anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and misogynistic. In a press release, protesters said they plan to “embrace and empower the groups that Donald Trump aims to tear down, like women, Muslims and immigrants.”
But he also has his supporters. Nassau GOP boss Joe Mondello has endorsed Trump. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who lives in Bethpage, reportedly plans to attend the rally but has not endorsed the candidate.
The rally comes as Trump has 737 delegates as of Tuesday, about half of the 1,237 needed to secure the Republican nomination. Presidential primary candidates historically need not rally in The Empire State since they usually clinch their party’s line well before the primaries here, which this year fall on April 19. Trump is leading the polls in his home state of New York, which has the second-most remaining available delegates after California.
Trump is coming off perhaps the roughest patch of his campaign. On March 30, Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with simple battery in Florida for allegedly grabbing Michelle Fields, then a Breitbart reporter, who was attempting to ask Trump a question. Trump, no stranger to incendiary comments, received widespread condemnation days later when, in responding to a hypothetical posed to him by MSNBC, he suggested that women who undergo illegal abortions should be punished. Trump later backtracked, saying that abortion providers who perform the procedure should be punished instead if abortion is made illegal.
“The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb,” Trump said in a statement clarifying his position.
Trump previously stirred controversy when he called for a ban of all Muslims from entering the United States and said he would compel Mexico to build a wall to keep immigrants from crossing the southern border. He’s also toyed with the idea of placing Muslim American citizens in a database and told one interviewer: “I think Islam hates us.”
Trump’s interpretation of how Muslim Americans perceive this country comes in stark contrast to statements made by the Muslim community on Long Island who have repeatedly condemned violence and proclaimed that the so-called Islamic State is a false caliphate that doesn’t represent the religion of some 3 billion people. Muslim Americans throughout the US have reported unprecedented levels of backlash—ranging from verbal broadsides and physical attacks—against members of the community and their mosques amid the election season.
Trump isn’t the only White House candidate making a campaign stop on the Island. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is languishing behind Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), made stops at Hofstra, Sagamore Hill and The Paramount in Huntington on Monday. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will reportedly hold events with party faithful in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was in Elmont on Tuesday. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has yet to announce plans to come to LI.