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Republicans, still amazed by Trump's victory, head to inauguration

Sometime early Thursday morning, Assemblyman David J. DiPietro’s inauguration caravan will roll into Washington and unload a host of Donald J. Trump's supporters from East Aurora.

All 19 of them.

“I’m bringing everybody – my family, my sisters, nieces, staff, everybody,” he said late Wednesday. “For me it’s like a movie to have this happen to a dry cleaner from East Aurora.”

DiPietro has been at Trump’s side for a long time, unsuccessfully attempting in 2013 to talk the billionaire developer into running for governor. Then, he toiled for presidential candidate Trump through the New York primary, and campaigned for him around the country.

Now it feels especially rewarding, he said, to have been there all the way.

“I look back at it now and think it’s just surreal,” he said. “To know he is now the president of the United States is incredible. I think he appreciates that I was there from the beginning, and that’s pretty cool.”

About 75 Republican movers and shakers from Western New York will be among the guests at Friday’s ceremony, as will an untold number of rank-and-file citizens who will head to the event on their own.

And many, like DiPietro and Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo, look upon Trump's inauguration with a sense of amazement.

“He’s a New Yorker so it’s a great moment for New York,” said Lorigo, a Trump backer. “But it’s also a great moment for New Yorkers on the right.”

Of course, not everyone is thrilled about the Manhattan billionaire stepping to the Capitol podium at noon Friday to take the oath of office.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters are slated to descend upon Washington to rally against a most non-traditional chief executive.

Buses bursting with Buffalonians will roll into the capital over the next few days, each filled with protesters, most planning to attend Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.

But for Republican faithful, their journey to Washington resembles something akin to a pilgrimage.

“I’ve spent 50 of my 90 years as a Republican activist, including 20 as chair of the Town of Tonawanda Republican Committee," said John Long, who celebrated his 90th birthday in Washington on Thursday. “And I can’t believe I’m here today celebrating the inauguration of the 45th president, Donald Trump.”

Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence, now a Washington lobbyist, will help guide around town many of the hometown visitors streaming into the city.

A veteran of such affairs who sat on the Capitol podium for the inaugurations of President George W. Bush, Reynolds will host friends of Rep. Tom Reed of Corning and gather with former Gov. George E. Pataki at a New York State affair.

He views the proceedings of the next few days as a recognition of “the transfer of power and a celebration of our freedom.”

“The masses come – dignitaries, spouses, officials of foreign governments and plain citizens who want to watch,” he said. “Most of them do it as part of celebrating that their guy gets sworn in, then there are the protestors saying ‘this is a new Washington and I don’t support it.' "

Reynolds also said capital visitors should expect roadblocks, police, security and not a lot of room to roam.

“This town basically shuts down,” he said. “It will be as full as Fort Lauderdale on spring break.”

Some New York Republicans attending the event may have to tread lightly.

Buffalo’s Carl P. Paladino, a member of the president-elect’s inner circle who was widely criticized last month for disparaging remarks about President and Michelle Obama, said he will have “pretty good seats” for the Friday inauguration. He plans to shun the post-ceremony balls and dine with friends at a small restaurant, but also looks forward to celebrating a new president and a new way of governing.

“We will be attending an inauguration of a president who beat back the Republicans, beat back the Democrats, beat back the Washington establishment, and helps the middle class in their uprising,” he said. “I think he will be one of our greatest presidents.”

Rep. Chris Collins, of Clarence, has also assumed a prominent role as an early congressional champion and spokesman for the campaign. He remains one of Trump’s “go to guys” in Congress and is expected to maintain a high profile throughout the weekend,  despite a recent controversy over stock trades he made in tandem with Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican Trump nominated to serve as health secretary.

Meanwhile, Reed will be joined by friends and family to witness the swearing-in ceremony. Reed, like Collins a key player in Trump’s transition team, also plans to attend a Thursday morning press conference with Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Other Western New Yorkers such as former Trump staffer Michael R. Caputo, of East Aurora, plan to be in Washington on Friday, while state Chairman Edward F. Cox is also expected to play a key role in shepherding Trump’s home delegation through various gatherings and celebrations.

Of course, Republican activists and protesters won’t be the only people crowding into the capital this weekend.

Peter Yacobucci, an associate professor of political science and American Democracy Project campus coordinator at SUNY Buffalo State, will lead a contingent of nine students to Washington to witness the Trump inauguration and the women’s march.

“I’ve always believed you can only learn so much in the classroom,” Yacobucci said. “What I want people to experience is politics on the ground. It should be a wonderful experience for the students.”

It will also likely be a wonderful experience for Mary Ann Hess, founder and owner of Niagara’s Honeymoon Sweets Gourmet Chocolate. Just as she did at Obama’s second inauguration four years ago, Hess will be displaying her wares before hundreds of people at Thursday night’s New York State Society Inaugural Gala.

Of course, chocolate is just about the only thing that Republicans and Democrats can agree upon, and Hess aims to keep it that way. Asked if she is a Trump supporter, Hess said: “I am going to stay neutral and refuse to say. That’s what I did last time, too.”

For his part, though, DiPietro said he’ll be happily celebrating Trump’s inauguration after more than three years of boosting the billionaire’s political prospects.

“It’s been incredible, yet exhausting,” he said. “Emotionally, it’s been a roller coaster. But if you told me even two years ago that I would be here, I would say that even Hollywood couldn’t script this.”

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