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Eric Trump campaigns in Washington

The crowd erupted and motorcycle engines revved as Eric Trump, son of President Donald Trump, took the stage at the American Legion Post in Washington during a campaign stop Thursday afternoon.

As the noise dimmed, the faint chanting of “Biden” could still be heard coming from a megaphone behind the crowd and across Park Avenue, where a small band of about 30 Democrats had gathered with signs. They were outnumbered.

“These guys could definitely take the guys across the street,” Eric Trump said of the multitude of bikers at the Trump 2020 rally. “I bet any one of these guys could take the guys across the street.”

Those opening remarks set the tone for the approximate 25-minute speech he gave to the 300 or so people gathered at the Legion.

“I swear, we’re gonna beat these guys so bad,” Trump said.

Making a note that he also owns a Harley Davidson, Trump said bikers have across the country have supported the Trump campaign.

“They’re riding around, and they’re the most patriotic, incredible people in the world,” Trump said.

Eric Trump was campaigning for his father in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday before making a stop in Washington about 2 p.m. Thursday. Both Florida and Pennsylvania are considered highly contested swing states in the upcoming presidential election.

“The silent majority’s really not that damn silent anymore,” he said. “The enthusiasm is incredible, and it’s because we love this country, and we don’t believe in what so many of these people stand for.”

Trump called the Democratic Party “incompetent” and “unrecognizable,” while mentioning “socialist agendas” from Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Someone in the crowd shouted, “Tom Wolf,” to include Pennsylvania’s governor in Trump’s list. Trump laughed and said, “You said it, not me.”

During his speech, Trump condemned recent protests for police reform across the country, stating that it’s not a partisan issue and calling law enforcement “the greatest men and women we have in this country.

“It’s a right and wrong issue,” he said. “It’s wrong to throw bricks at cops.”

Trump also emphasized his father’s support of the steel, coal and oil and gas industries, along with the Second Amendment and Christianity.

“What is it about this all-out assault on Christianity by the Democrats in this country?” Trump asked the crowd. “All these people in the flyover states are clinging to their guns and they’re clinging to their Bibles.”

Trump said that in 2016, his father was running “against incompetence.”

“This time it’s against madness,” he said. “Guys, I promise you, we’re gonna win this thing.”

After his speech, Trump brought on to the stage Brandon Rumbaugh – a Marine, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and double amputee – who told the crowd he wished he could have received his Purple Heart medal from President Trump instead of President Barack Obama.

“This is why we stand for the national anthem,” Trump said as the crowd cheered.

The event drew crowds of people from across the greater Pittsburgh region, West Virginia, Ohio, and Greene and Washington counties. The Washington County Republican Committee was selling water bottles and campaign merchandise.

“Energy and enthusiasm – that’s very important in winning elections,” said Mark Hrutkay, chairman of the committee. “You want your base, you want your supporters to be energized.”

Dave Staniszewski, commander of American Legion Post 175, said a lot of planning went into hosting Trump outside the Legion.

“This is the biggest political event that we’ve had on our property, as far as a candidate for president,” he said. “You would be surprised the amount of Republicans in Washington County that are supporting this.”

Staniszewski said the Washington County Democratic Party has rented their hall in the past and that if Joe Biden “wanted to show up tomorrow,” they’d host him, too. He said he was told the city would be reimbursed for additional support services needed for the event, including police, fire and EMS.

The two Republican Washington County commissioners, Nick Sherman and Diana Irey Vaughan, were also present. Irey Vaughan took the stage early to open the event in prayer.

Sherman said in an interview that this election is “crucially important” for the county’s economy, stating that it relies on the natural gas industry.

“It’s crucial that Washington County is on the map,” he said. “This is a battleground state for very important reasons. It’s personal to a lot of people.”

By the end of the rally, the Democrats across the street had left. Their group was organized by Bob and Sandy Sabot, of North Franklin Township, who both serve on the county’s Democratic Committee. Sandy Sabot said everyone in their group was “positive” and “peaceful.”

“We wanted to show that not everyone in Washington County supports the president,” she said.

In a year of restrictions, virus changes Sept. 11, too

NEW YORK – In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped countless American rituals, even the commemoration of 9/11 could not escape unchanged.

The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks will be marked by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner near the World Trade Center, reflecting a divide over the memorial’s decision to suspend a cherished tradition of relatives reading victims’ names in person. Vice President Mike Pence is expected at both those remembrances in New York, while President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden plan to go to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania.

In New York, the double beams of light that evoke the fallen twin towers were nearly canceled in the name of virus safety, until an uproar restored the tribute. The Fire Department has cited the virus in urging members to skip observances of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, among them almost 350 firefighters.

Some victims’ relatives say they understand the ground zero observance had to change in a year when so much else has. Others fear the pandemic is making plain what they have feared was happening unspoken: that the commitment to “Never Forget” is fading.

“It’s another smack in the face,” says Jim Riches, who lost his son Jimmy, a firefighter.

The father is staying home on the anniversary for the first time this year because he doesn’t want to take chances with the coronavirus after a prior illness. But he feels others should have the option of reciting the names of the dead on the memorial plaza, instead of listening to a recording.

Memorial leaders said they wanted to avoid close contact among readers, who are usually paired at the podium. But to Riches, a retired fire battalion chief and frequent critic of the memorial organization, the decision sounds like an excuse for sidelining the families’ role in commemorating 9/11.

“I wish they wouldn’t forget, but they’re trying to,” he says.

But Anthoula Katsimatides sees the differences this year as an effort to ensure victims’ relatives feel comfortable attending – including her mother, who hasn’t left home since March because health issues make her especially worried about the virus. But she is determined to go in honor of her son John, a bond trader, her daughter said.

While many events have been called off this year, “this wasn’t canceled. It’s just been changed in such a way where we still get to pay tribute to our loved ones in a respectful and safe way,” said Katsimatides, who’s on the memorial board. She says the change wasn’t motivated by anything except a public health emergency.

“Who expected COVID-19? ... It was completely unforeseen. As was 9/11,” she said.

This year’s plans have been a balancing act at the sites where hijacked planes piloted by al-Qaida terrorists crashed on Sept. 11, 2001: New York, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville is trimming its usual 90-minute ceremony, partly by eliminating musical interludes. Memorial spokeswoman Katherine Cordek said victims’ names would be read, but by one person instead of multiple family members.

Military leaders will conduct the Pentagon’s ceremony without victims’ families in attendance, and their loved ones’ names will be recited by a recording, rather than readers on-site. Victims’ relatives can visit the Pentagon’s memorial in small groups later Friday.

In New York – where the nation’s deadliest coronavirus spike happened early this spring but has since been fairly well contained – leaders of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum said their plan for a no-reading ceremony would honor both virus precautions and 9/11 families’ attachment to being at ground zero on the anniversary.

But another 9/11-related organization, the Stephen Stiller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, quickly arranged its own simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying victims’ relatives could recite names while keeping a safe distance.

“We need to keep letting America know what happened 19 years ago. And they need to see that emotion of the day, not a recording,” says chairman Frank Siller. He says he may attend both observances to honor the brother he lost, firefighter Stephen.

Meanwhile, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told current firefighters in a memo last month that the department “strongly recommends” members not participate in 9/11 observances. The department did hold a limited-attendance ceremony Wednesday to add names to a memorial wall recognizing members who died after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage.

Tensions over anniversary plans flared anew when the memorial announced last month it was nixing the Tribute in Light, twin blue beams that shine into the night sky over lower Manhattan. While there’s no official gathering to view the lights, the memorial cited virus risks to the installation crew.

The cancellation outraged some victims’ relatives, police and fire unions and politicians, who noted that construction sites around the city were deemed safe to reopen months ago. After the Tunnel to Towers foundation said it would organize the display on its own, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the memorial’s billionaire chairman, stepped in to keep the memorial-sponsored lights on. (Tunnel to Towers is now stationing lights at the Flight 93 memorial and the Pentagon.)

Memorial President Alice Greenwald later said the organization “should have approached this issue differently.”

Still, the memorial’s moves fanned mistrust among some 9/11 victims’ relatives who wonder how long the name-reading and other observances will continue.

Katismatides, the board member, foresees the ceremony returning to normal next year.

Debra Epps has been to the ground zero ceremony every year. She said it means a lot to her to read names and add a few words in tribute to her brother Christopher, an accountant.

Still, she thinks the memorial was right to forgo the live name-reading this year. The virus has her concerned enough that she’s not planning to attend.

“It really is a hard decision to make, but I know that we’re still in this pandemic,” said Epps, who works in health care.

“I will remember my brother, no matter what,” she said.

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Gov. Wolf urges Legislature to free up money to help small businesses

Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday urged the state Legislature to free up more money to help small businesses that have been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wolf called on state lawmakers to release $225 million in federal money to assist businesses that have taken a “direct hit” and another $100 million to help bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons.

He said all of Pennsylvania will have a faster recovery when small businesses recover, as they make up 50% of Pennsylvania’s workforce.

The state announced $225 million for small businesses in June, and $96 million of that money has been allocated, Wolf said.

“However, we need to do more to help small businesses recover,” Wolf said

The new round of money, if approved, would come in the form of grants and partially forgiven loans.

At a live-streamed briefing in York Thursday, state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans said the Republican-controlled House and Senate and Democrats need to set party differences aside and consider the bill next week.

“We will pick up the mantle,” said Hill-Evans, D-York.

The press conference was held the same day the state Health Department announced 587 new cases of the novel coronavirus, taking the statewide total to 141,877 since March.

The virus has killed 7,820 Pennsylvanians after 15 new deaths were announced Thursday.

There were no new deaths from the virus recorded that day in Allegheny, Washington, Greene and Fayette counties.

Washington County added seven new cases to its total that climbed to 1,163. Greene County had one new case with a total of 153. Fayette County saw six new cases added to its total of 728.