MINNEAPOLIS — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the city of Minneapolis found themselves in a politically charged standoff Tuesday that featured a scramble for the moral high ground, verbal sniping on Twitter and a pile of money.
Early Tuesday evening, Trump’s campaign manager declared victory, saying on Twitter the campaign “has not agreed to pay any additional funds” for public safety costs stemming from Trump’s scheduled Thursday evening rally at the Target Center.
Following that statement, a city spokeswoman said it’s not over.
Officially, at issue was what amounted to a $530,000 bill for anticipated security-related costs for the rally — and the expected counter-protests outside, which are prompting Minneapolis to put a portion of the city’s downtown on a near lockdown mode starting Wednesday evening.
Here’s how it went down:
On Monday, the city essentially told AEG Worldwide, which operates the Target Center, that it expected payment. AEG then told the Trump campaign, with which it has a contract to host the rally, that the campaign would need to pay upfront.
The campaign then cried foul, publicly, noting that Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, has publicly pooh-poohed Trump’s visit for the rally, the first such event since House Democrats began an impeachment inquiry two weeks ago.
On Twitter, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale wrote, “This is an outrageous abuse of power by a liberal mayor trying to deny the rights of his own city’s residents just because he hates the President!”
And Trump’s campaign threatened to sue, setting a midmorning deadline Tuesday that came and went with no apparent legal action.
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Frey set a tone that sounded at once defiant, respectful and statesmanlike. In the supercharged atmosphere of a polarizing conservative president rallying in a hotbed of progressivism, how Frey’s message was received likely depended on whose ears it fell.
“Whether you are attending the event in support, or protesting in opposition, we will do everything possible to ensure your safety,” Frey said. “Your safety is our responsibility. It is our top priority, and we take that charge very seriously.
“In turn, I have an ask of all of you. Whether you’re visiting or you live here, I ask that you not lose sight of the fact that you are here with neighbors. You are here alongside mothers and daughter and fathers and sons, people all embracing the most fundamental rights that are protected under our constitution. If you see cruelty, call it out, and answer it with kindness. If you see hate, counter it with love, and above all please join us in keeping the peace on Thursday.
“We will show with bracing clarity that Minneapolis is a world class city, and we will not take the bait. We will not be baited by any one person or an ugly line from a meandering speech. We are bigger than that and we must rise above.”
That’s just the basic timeline. Throughout it all, a chorus of rhetoric raged on social media. Trump called Frey a “lightweight.” Frey, who had previously called Trump’s actions “reprehensible,” responded to Trump with, in part, “Yawn.” And so it went Tuesday.
As far as the money, it’s unclear if Minneapolis will ever get reimbursed, whatever the final costs end up being. But it will try.
After Parscale’s statement saying the campaign doesn’t expect to pay any additional fees, Minneapolis spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie issued the following statement: “The City of Minneapolis will continue to pursue reimbursement of City-incurred costs resulting from the President’s campaign visit. These include costs to the City that are above and beyond normal day-to-day operations for public safety and traffic-control management.”
Here’s how the city of Minneapolis breaks down the bill: $400,000 for public safety, largely consisting of police officer overtime, and $130,000 for public works-type expenses, such as bringing in concrete barriers and closing down roads.
For context, those analogous costs were $6 million for the Super Bowl in 2018 and $1.5 million for the Final Four held earlier this year. McKenzie said the city’s $530,000 estimate was based on models developed for securing those events.
“The city has used the same methodology to determine public safety, traffic control and other costs for the POTUS political rally at Target Center,” she said Tuesday.
How does it normally work?
There isn’t really a standard way to pay for public safety at events like this.
When Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl, a nonprofit “host committee” of civic leaders helped raise funds for local government expenses.
When St. Paul hosted the Republican National Convention in 2008, a $50 million federal grant covered the lion’s share of the law enforcement tab.
When Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen.Elizabeth Warren drew a crowd of thousands at Macalester College in St. Paul, no one picked up the tab — because there really wasn’t one.
“The Saint Paul Police Department did not incur any costs for details related to Elizabeth Warren’s visit to Macalester,” spokesman Steve Linders said. “Macalester did hire off-duty officers to work the event, but the department did not employ any special details or provide any on-duty additional officers for the event.”
Do Trump rallies cost more?
There’s evidence to show that Trump’s political rallies aren’t like traditional presidential visits — and that Trump’s campaign is less likely to pay than other campaigns.
When Trump rallied for a border wall in the city of El Paso, Texas, the city attempted to charge the campaign $470,000. According to the El Paso Times, the Trump campaign hasn’t paid up. The city also charged candidate Beto O’Rourke some $21,000 for a counter-protest; O’Rourke’s campaign paid the bill.
Last year, when Trump staged a political rally in Rochester, Minn., the city estimated it racked up more than $90,000 in costs that will be borne by taxpayers. City officials said they would attempt to recoup some of the costs, but they didn’t hold out much hope of it happening, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
In June, an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity identified 10 city governments that were attempting to charge Trump’s campaign for costs associated with rallies, but the campaign was either refusing to pay or ignoring requests.
It doesn’t appear that, aside from potential contractual obligations, campaigns are universally required to pay public safety costs. The Federal Election Commission, which regulates federal political groups, doesn’t have any such requirement.
However, In June, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Trump’s campaign was making up-front payments toward a bill of about $146,000, though it’s unclear if that bill included any additional public safety costs.
In the case of the Minneapolis rally, the city owns the Target Center, but has a contract with AEG Worldwide to manage the facility. According to that contract, Frey said, AEG must pay the city for additional public safety costs, should they arise. It was AEG’s attempt to pass along the costs to the Trump campaign that triggered the recent row.
Officials with AEG did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment Tuesday.
Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this report.