‘TRUMP WAS THE GREAT HOPE’
AND HE STILL IS, SAY VOTERS IN RURAL PENNSYLVANIA TOWN
One hundred days after Donald Trump became President of the United States, very little appears to have changed in Monessen, a beleaguered former steel town in rural Pennsylvania. Until, that is, you step into the mayor’s office.
“I’ve done it, I’ve finally sold City Hall!” exclaims Lou Mavrakis, 75, hopping out of his chair like a Jack-in-the-box. “It’s the Trump effect. That’s what 100 days means to me.”
During the election campaign, Mavrakis was mired in gloom. He had long been trying to sell the four-storey concrete building in a bid to help plug Monessen’s $13.5-million debt. But no one wanted to invest in a decaying city.
“It’s the real deal, someone’s bought it to turn into a cancer therapy centre,” Mavrakis said. “People will come from everywhere. That means hotels, restaurants, jobs. This is happening because of Trump. He put places like this on the map.
“Nothing had happened in this goddamn place for decades, but after what’s happened in the last couple of months I’m optimistic.”
Monessen used to be home to 30,000 people, employing 8,000 in the now defunct Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill. There are now fewer than 7,500 residents left. Derelict homes and shops are everywhere.
During the election Mavrakis, a lifelong Democrat and steel union official, asked Trump to come to see the blight for himself. He did. Hillary Clinton never answered the mayor’s letter.
Westmoreland County, in which the town sits, subsequently delivered the most votes for Trump of any county in the key state of Pennsylvania. He demolished Clinton by 116,427 to 59,506 and snatched a state she thought was hers. To mark 100 days in power, Trump returned to the scene of the upset Saturday night for a rally in Harrisburg, a couple of hours away.
In Monessen, nearly 1,000 Democrats switched sides and for these “Trump Democrats” there is no buyers’ remorse.
Orest Cieply, 53, still a registered Democrat, went from being a Bernie Sanders supporter to backing Trump.
“I’m enthused. Towns like ours get missed and what Trump’s done is start boosting morale in areas like this. The tax cuts will create income, illegal immigration is down, he’s cutting regulation, so the jobs will come back. And I love what he’s doing (in) standing up to North Korea.
“Hillary had a high and mighty attitude and she snubbed her nose at us, saying she’d put coal miners out of work.”
National polls suggest Trump supporters are standing by their man. A survey published by the University of Virginia last week showed Trump still had a 93-per-cent approval rating among respondents who voted for him in November.
The Daily Telegraph spoke to five Trump voters in Monessen who graded the president on his first 100 days. Four gave him a “B” and one a “B minus”. The minus was for not being tougher on a recalcitrant Congress that blocked his repeal of Obamacare.
One man, a 63-year-old retired computer worker, said: “We were just tired of what was going on in Washington. Trump was the great hope. Trump was change. And that stills stands.”
A 65-year-old retired warehouse worker, a Democrat who voted for Trump, said: “For me it was ‘did I want a braggart or a liar in office?’ I went for the braggart and I think he’s doing a good job. He’s working towards his promises on immigration and tax reform. The stock market has confidence in him and so do I. He’s a standup guy.”
Andrew Lane, 37, a labourer and Trump voter, said: “He’s taking a beating from Congress and the liberals unfortunately. Anything he wants to do they’re trying to stop him. But the economy’s going to get better and hopefully some of that money will get dumped on mill towns like here.”