Celebrity real estate mogul Donald J. Trump has arrived in Buffalo in his luxury Boeing 757, where he is scheduled to speak to a packed crowd at Salvatore's Italian Gardens in Lancaster.
Trump, 67, will speak to at least 500 people during the fundraiser for the Erie County Republican Committee, some of which will have paid $500 to meet him.
And as they listen tonight, Republican leaders from around Western New York will likely have the same question on their minds: Will he run?
Trump has been exploring a run for governor against Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent, and this will mark one of first major political addresses this year.
Erie County's Republican Committee represents a major piece of the support Trump would need if he seeks the party's designation to run.
Assemblyman Bill Nojay, who represents Rochester suburbs and wrote a memo in October encouraging a Trump candidacy, said he thinks Trump is serious, based on the billionaire's meetings with key Republicans and his phone calls to Republican chairmen in Monroe County and some smaller counties, including Ontario and Livingston.
“He's building a groundswell ... and he's saying, 'I'm willing to be the candidate if the party unites behind me,' ” Nojay said.
Trump has made it clear that he is not interested in a primary, and state Republican Chairman Ed Cox has been a vocal supporter of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is also exploring a run.
Buffalo School Board Member Carl P. Paladino is not expected at tonight's dinner, but spoke positively about Trump in a meeting of the state Conservative Party earlier this week.
The crowd tonight will have paid $100 per person, or $175 per couple to attend, or $500 per couple for tickets to a private reception and an opportunity to have their photo taken with the “Celebrity Apprentice” star.