New York made Donald Trump and could convict him. But for now, he's using it to campaign

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Former President Donald Trump meets with firefighters at a midtown Manhattan firehouse,Thursday, May 2, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

NEW YORK – He's visiting Manhattan construction sites, decrying local crime and holding court in his gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse.

After a years-long breakup with his hometown, Donald Trump is back in New York, this time as a criminal defendant. Stuck here most weekdays for the duration of his criminal hush money trial, the Queens-born presumptive GOP nominee has been conjuring images of his old days as a celebrity developer, reality TV star and tabloid fixture with weekly local campaign stops as he settles back into the place that made him, voted against him twice — and may end up convicting him.

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After leaving court Thursday, Trump made another stop, heading to a midtown Manhattan firehouse with boxes of pizza in hand. Trump spent about 10 minutes shaking hands, posing for photos and chatting with several dozen firefighters and other personnel there before returning to Trump Tower for the night.

The felony trial has curtailed Trump’s ability to campaign across the country. But it also means Trump is often spending four days a week in the nation’s media capital, with access to ready-made locations for campaign events that he can use to court voters as he tries to reclaim the White House.

“While President Trump is forced to spend the next few weeks here in Manhattan, he should use that opportunity to get to communities around the city,” said former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican who challenged Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2022 and lost a closer than expected race.

Zeldin declined to detail private conversations with Trump campaign aides, but noted his gubernatorial campaign had included stops in heavily Asian American neighborhoods like Chinatown and Flushing in Queens, Dominican communities in the south Bronx, and Orthodox Jewish communities, among others.

While many were longtime Democratic neighborhoods, he said, “they were excited that I showed up and I was talking to them about issues that they cared about more than blind partisan loyalty.”

He noted news coverage of Trump's stops carries them far beyond local businesses or community groups.

“That video that gets taken ends up getting shared widely all over the country,” he said.

Trump's stops in heavily Democratic New York City have felt sometimes more like a bid for mayor than a run to reclaim the White House.

Thursday's stop at the firehouse was captured by a large gaggle of reporters and cameras penned across the street. Inside the station, Trump thanked staff for their service, said FDNY spokesman Jim Long. Trump had visited the same firehouse, as well as a next-door police precinct, when he returned to the city in 2021 after leaving office to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We appreciate whoever supports our members at the FDNY, no matter their political affiliation,” the FDNY said in a statement, noting they have hosted leaders including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Mike Pence and every one of the city's mayors over the years.

Trump's other visits have drawn large crowds. After the second day of jury selection, the former president was whisked by motorcade to a bodega in a majority-Latino section of Harlem, where hundreds of supporters and onlookers gathered behind police barricades to catch a glimpse.

The visit to the bodega, which had been the site of a violent crime, also allowed Trump to rail against the district attorney overseeing the hush money case. Alvin Bragg faced backlash after he brought murder charges against a store cashier who stabbed a customer to death in apparent self-defense. The charges were eventually dropped.

Last week, Trump visited the site of an unfinished skyscraper — not one of his own — to shake hands with cheering construction workers, sign hats and helmets and pose for pictures with hard hats and steel beams in the background.

The image harkened back to his roots as a developer and an era when he was a fixture of the city, frequently featured on the covers of New York’s cutthroat tabloids as he talked up projects on which he slapped his name in big gold letters.

“We’ve built a lot of great buildings in the city with these people,” Trump said at the stop.

Trump has also been using his signature Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to host meetings with foreign leaders preparing for a potential second Trump term, including former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Trump, who officially became a Florida resident in 2019, had spent little time in New York after he took office in 2017. He visited only a handful of times as president, and officially decamped to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida after leaving the White House in 2021.

When he announced in 2019 that he was making Florida his official home, he said in a post on Twitter — now X — that he would always “cherish” New York, “but unfortunately, despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state.” He later told told the New York Post that he’d largely avoided the city as president to avoid snarling traffic with his presidential motorcade.

That meant largely abandoning Trump Tower, where he filmed “The Apprentice" and later staged the 2016 campaign launch that he famously entered via escalator. After his surprise victory, reporters camped out in the building’s lobby for weeks as Trump paraded a line of White House hopefuls through the lobby, along with celebrities like Kanye West.

Trump had long told aides that he wanted to campaign in his home city, insisting he had a chance of winning, even though New York remains overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2020, President Joe Biden beat him with 60% of the vote.

Beyond his unannounced stops to local businesses, Trump has also talked of holding rallies in the south Bronx and at one of the city’s most famous venues, Madison Square Garden.

“We’re going to have a big rally, honoring the police and honoring the firemen and everybody, honoring a lot of people, including teachers, by the way,” he said after court last week. “We’re honoring teachers, because teachers have been very badly maligned with some very poor leadership. But we’ll be honoring the people that make New York work. And we’ll be doing a number of large rallies, it’ll be very exciting.”

And he has increasingly weighed in on local news events, including calling into his friend Sean Hannity’s primetime Fox News show while a police raid was underway to remove and arrest pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University.

“We’re going to make a heavy play for New York,” Trump said during the visit to the Harlem bodega last month. “I love this city and it’s gotten so bad in the last three years, four years, and we’re going to straighten New York out.”

He also said there were upsides to being stuck in the city.

“It makes me campaign locally,” he said, his New York accent coming out even more thickly as he added, “I think there’s more press here than there is if I went out to some nice location."

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