Hosting Trump in Wheeling Without a Hitch

The dinner comprised  stuffed chicken breast, roasted potatoes, green beans, a roll, and a side salad, and it was prepared by Undo’s Family Restaurant.

After flying from western Pennsylvania to the Ohio County Airport, Donald Trump’s campaign caravan sped down W.Va. Route 2 through Warwood and North Wheeling, but when the long line of SUVs and law enforcement vehicles reached 12th Street in the downtown district, the motorcade veered left, and then it took a wrong-way right onto Market Street down to 16th Street and then proceeded to the rear of Wesbanco Arena.

Following the fundraiser in Wheeling candidate Trump addressed a large crowd on the campus of Ohio University Eastern. (Photo by John Bishop)
Following the fundraiser in Wheeling candidate Trump addressed a large crowd on the campus of Ohio University Eastern. (Photo by John Bishop)

Once inside the arena, Trump was escorted to one of the facility’s dressing rooms, and although there was a seat reserved for the candidate on the stage, Trump was not seen publicly eating the prepared dinner. Following the candidate’s speech, he was presented with a coal miner’s helmet.

Bob Murray, the private dinner’s host and owner of Murray Energy, spoke first to the crowd of more than 1,200 supporters seated on the main arena floor and along the 100-level, and then Trump emerged from the back area and addressed the contributors.

It was a fundraising event, after all, but despite the rumors about the cost of a ticket, W.Va. Del. Erikka Storch, who did attend the event, said Murray was asking only $100 per plate.

“And that only if you could pay that,” the Republican lawmaker said. “I’m pretty sure they allowed supporters to attend even if they couldn’t pay the $100.”

Donald Trump with Wheeling Police Lt. Phil Redford.
Donald Trump with Wheeling Police Lt. Phil Redford.

Attention to Detail

Forty Wheeling police officers; 15 Ohio County deputies; four officers from the state Department of Natural Resources covering the Ohio River; 14 officers from Morgantown’s crowd-control unit; 16 state troopers; and 14 volunteer assistants.

Those are statistics concerning the local detail that joined U.S. Secret Service agents in protecting the presumptive Republican nominee during his two-state visit while he was in the Mountain State, according to Lt. Phil Redford, who served as the primary contact with the Secret Service.

“Everything went very well despite the fact that we were not offered much initial information from the very beginning of the planning process,” he explained. “Until the field agents arrived in Wheeling late last week, it was difficult to pre-plan as much as we possibly could so everything would proceed the way we needed it to.

“And there were some last-minute changes, too,” Redford confirmed. “Originally, I know Mr. Trump wanted to fly in his Boeing 757, which is a plane that is the same size as Air Force One, and the Ohio County Airport does have the 5,000-foot runway, so it could have happened. But then we discovered that the airport did not have the staircase that was tall enough for a plane that size.”

Redford also said the Secret Service worked with him to establish three possible routes from the airport to Wesbanco Arena to ensure safe transport.

The presumptive GOP nominee landed at the Ohio County Airport at 3:50 p.m.
The presumptive GOP nominee landed at the Ohio County Airport at 3:50 p.m.

“We looked at all the possible scenarios,” he explained. “What if an accident had taken place on W.Va. Route 2? Well, then we would have had to take him through Oglebay Park. What if protestors were causing issues on one of the paths? We had to take that possibility in account, too.

“During the planning process we examined the possible routes and took a hard look at where a sniper could have hidden without being detected, too,” Redford continued. “And that is why the Secret Service chose the path through downtown. Although we had two drug-detecting dogs and two bicycle officers inside the Intermodal Transportation Center, it was still decided to avoid it because the garage was open all day.”

Two snipers were visible from a couple of different rooftops near Wesbanco Arena. One was a member of the Wheeling Police Department, and the other was an Ohio County deputy.

A group of close to 40 local residents did apply for a protesting permit from the city of Wheeling, and after gathering at the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling, they marched through downtown before reaching the Heritage Port area at the corner of 12th and Water streets. Once in position, the group orchestrated several chants.

“Dump Trump!”

“Trump’s a joke, and so is Bob. They don’t care about your jobs!”

Local residents protested the Murray-Trump event in downtown Wheeling.
Local residents protested the Murray-Trump event in downtown Wheeling. (Photo by Steve Novotney)

“We had zero issues with the protesters,” Redford confirmed. “We really didn’t know what to expect because we looked at all of the history involving previous Trump events, and we were well aware that there have been problems at some of them. We also knew that Mr. Trump has been very vocal concerning some issues, and we had heard that it was possible that some busloads of people could have traveled here, but that was not the case.

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“But I have to say that Mr. Trump was a very nice man although he seemed very rushed while he was in Wheeling,” Redford said. “For example, the Secret Service told us that he had time for only eight photos, and that had to be arranged well before the event on Tuesday.”

The presidential candidate departed the Friendly City for the campus of Ohio University Eastern via Interstate 70, and that is where the deputies with the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office and troopers with the Ohio Highway Patrol took over. That, however, did not mean Redford and his detail were finished.

“We had to wait for him because he was returning to Wheeling to fly out of the Ohio County Airport,” he said. “Then we got the call that Mr. Trump decided to stop at the Longhorn Steakhouse, and that was totally unexpected.

“It was a stressful day and a very stressful five hours because everyone involved just wanted everything to go the way we had planned,” Redford added. “But everyone from every law enforcement agency cooperated perfectly, and when he left, it was very satisfying. It was a great experience.”

Trump's campaign caravan navigated downtown Wheeling in a way to avoid the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center.
Trump’s campaign caravan navigated downtown Wheeling in a way to avoid the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center. (Photo by Steve Novotney)

That First Job

For the Storch family, the Trump visit meant a little more than a visit paid to Wheeling by a presidential candidate. As it turned out, it was more of a family thing.

“I did think it was a very cool thing to have him here in Wheeling, and it was a lot of fun because my son, Seth, wanted to go, too, so that was a great time for me,” she said. “And my daughter, Alexis, had the chance to work the event with Undo’s Catering, and it was her very first job.

“The best part, though, was that she got that job all by herself. She made those calls, and she did it herself, and that made me very proud,” Storch beamed. “For every parent, I believe, when your child joins the workforce for the very first, that’s a proud moment. I know it was for me.”

While in the Upper Ohio Valley Trump addressed issues such as terrorism, health care, free trade, the American military, veterans and the Veterans Administration, and public education. Storch reported that when he was in Wheeling, he focused on the future of coal mining and clean air regulations.

“I didn’t find anything that he said to be controversial at all,” the lawmaker said. “The owner of a coal company hosted the dinner, so I think everyone in the arena expected him to talk about the coal industry and his intent to get the laid-off miners back to work.

“He did say that he likes other energy sources like solar and wind, but he said those sources of energy need backed up and that coal does not,” Storch continued. “So I thought it went very well, but I know my son wished he had attended the event at OUE because that where Trump was shaking hands and signing autographs.”

Trump with Ohio County Sheriff's Deputy GJ Costello.
Trump with Ohio County Sheriff’s Deputy GJ Costello.

Hosting “The Donald”

Neither the general manager nor the assistant GM planned the Murray-Trump event at Wesbanco Arena, and that’s because Denny Magruder was at a conference in Philadelphia and Doug Campbell was on a planned family vacation when crunch time arrived with the host and the Secret Service agents.

“That’s why I have to take my hat off to Sonya (Fedorka), Kyle (Knox), Cindy (Johnson), and Casey (Tucker). Those are the folks that met with the agents and with Mr. Murray and his representatives,” Campbell said. “They are the ones that got this done without a hitch, and I have to give them all the credit in the world.

“And in the end, all the planning and all the attention to detail was accomplished for Mr. Trump being here at Wesbanco Arena for a total of 40 minutes, including his 23-minute speech. We were prepared for an hour-long speech, but that didn’t happen,” he continued. “Now, Mr. Murray was on the stage speaking a lot longer than that, but that’s all of what we saw of Mr. Trump.”

On Tuesday, the arena was staffed by Campbell and five assistants as well as a pair of door guards, four ushers, and two maintenance employees.

Portions of 14th and Water streets were closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Portions of 14th and Water streets were closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. (By Steve Novotney)

“There really wasn’t a call for a lot of our people because the Secret Service and local law enforcement took care of most of the work there was,” Campbell said. “But there was a stress level involved because Mr. Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, and there were about 1,100 on the arena floor and probably another 150 people seated on the 100-level that were not eating but were still in attendance.

“And we also heard a lot of compliments on the arena’s expansion and it’s new look,” he added. “Once the Secret Service agents rushed the guest to the top of the stairs, I saw a lot of the guests taking a good look around and not one of heard a negative comment. It was all a very positive experience for everyone.”

(Cover photo by John Bishop)