A Bangor business decided against hosting a Trump campaign event on Thursday after being warned by state officials against violating COVID-19 guidelines on gatherings.

President Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was scheduled to appear at Greenway Equipment Sales in the latest in a series of recent stops the Trump campaign has made in greater Bangor as the president tries to lock down support in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where the race between him and Vice President Joe Biden is close.

The Trump campaign announced Thursday that the event would be moved to Orrington Calvary Chapel, a church that has sued Gov. Janet Mills over her COVID-19 restrictions. DHHS then sent the church a similar letter advising against a large gathering. An advisory sent Thursday by the campaign of Dale Crafts, the Republican running against Democratic Rep. Jared Golden for his 2nd District seat, said the Donald Trump Jr. event was moved because “response was huge.”

No one answered the phone at Calvary Chapel on Thursday afternoon. Photos shared on social media showed the event was being held outside the church.

Tyler and Mitchel Smith, the owners of Greenway Equipment Sales, said in a Facebook post that the business got a letter at 5 p.m. Wednesday from Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. In the letter, Lambrew said if the event failed to comply with executive orders and guidelines to combat the pandemic, “the state would take all reasonable and practicable actions to protect the health and safety of Maine people.”

Maine has a statewide mask mandate in public spaces when distancing is difficult to maintain, and an outdoor gathering limit of 100 people. The Trump campaign has violated those guidelines in recent events, including a last-minute stop by the president Sunday at an apple orchard in Levant. That event was highly criticized by many, including Mills, but defended by Trump supporters.

“Upon receipt of that letter and after consultation with the Trump campaign officials, they made the decision to move this rally to another location in the area,” the Smiths wrote.

Republican congressional candidate Dale Crafts, seated, with Donald Trump Jr. at a rally in Auburn last month. Steve Collins/Sun Journal file photo

In May, Calvary Chapel sued the Mills administration, arguing that her ban on in-person church services was unconstitutional. A federal judge sided with Mills, concluding that, “The state is managing an extraordinary array of issues, and it has responded to the challenges raised by COVID-19 by establishing uniform standards and restrictions based on evolving scientific evidence. … Upsetting the careful balance being drawn by Maine’s Governor at this time would have an adverse effect on the public interest.”

The ban on indoor worshiping has since been lifted, although limits are still in place for all gatherings, including church services.

Over the last week, Maine has seen a spike in new COVID-19 cases, reaching a record seven-day average of 59.3 cases on Thursday. Mills pleaded with residents to follow guidelines to keep the virus from spreading further.

“We expect compliance, we hope for compliance because otherwise this is going to be totally out of control,” she said.

Lambrew was asked about the Donald Trump Jr. event during a media briefing Thursday afternoon.

“We have shared our guidance on public health and large gatherings with the facility hosting the event,” she said, referring to the church. “We expect them, for the sake of public health, to comply.”

Lambrew added that all businesses are treated the same and that it is possible to hold large gatherings safely.

“This is not about politics, this is about public health,” she said.

The Greenway Equipment Sales owners wrote that they were honored to be approached by the Trump campaign to host an event and disappointed to have to back out.

“We feel strongly about our right to assemble and show support for the candidates of our choice, and we were taking every step to ensure that our family, employees, and the attendees at this rally would be safe,” they wrote. “Masks and social distancing were at the top of that list. We understood the challenges of enforcing these requests and had full cooperation from the Trump campaign and event organizers.”

There have been numerous examples, however, where Trump campaign event attendees have not followed pandemic guidelines.

Jonathan Kenerson, CEO of Treworgy Family Orchards in Levant, which hosted Trump on Sunday, told News Center Maine that he was disappointed that event drew so many people who were not masked or physically distanced.

“Obviously we’re concerned in the midst of a pandemic a gathering of this size was not in line with our own policies or the state of Maine’s,” he said. “We were told it would be a small event and I’m sad to see it wasn’t.”


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