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Column: Speech to Congress a pivotal moment for Trump

Readers of the Politics Column this past year may notice its preoccupation with a new political buzzword.

“Pivot” emerged as a trendy term over those months to describe the “presidential” turn that Donald Trump found so difficult to make.

He offered a few hopeful moments. In a Manhattan address during the presidential primary last April, he said his version of “New York values” included firefighters rushing into the burning World Trade Center in 2001 (strategically aimed at Sen. Ted Cruz just down the Grand Hyatt dais).

The next day he told The Buffalo News that maybe he had reached that pivot point.

When he arrived at KeyBank Center a few days later, however, he was lambasting “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.”

Others thought his call for unity on Election Night foreshadowed a new and different Donald Trump.

But nasty tweets issued in the middle of the night and banning unfriendly media from the White House never demonstrated the pivot so many craved.

Politics Column: Political fellowship and pain

Now speculation continues as to whether the new president is not only accepting but embracing the “presidential.” After his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, those studying him for years say they saw something different.

“To watch him do an hour and 10 minutes delivering a thoughtful speech without ad libbing was stunning to me,” said Michael Caputo, a onetime campaign aide. “It shows Donald Trump growing comfortable in the presidency.”

Caputo noted the respectful introduction of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens’ widow during the speech. It can’t get much more “presidential.”

“It’s what you see in a CEO,” he said. “A CEO does not arrive at a ‘moment’ and change direction. You see growth.”

Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said the president “completely met the moment.” He believes nobody should be surprised.

“Because he’s been so unconventional, he’s been underestimated,” the chairman said.

“Unconventional” may emerge as another key word. That’s because few, including Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, believe he will really change.

“I’ve been waiting for him to turn the corner and actually act presidential,” Zellner said. “This is the best shot he’s made at being presidential.”

But did anything change?

“It was just rhetoric,” he added.

Lots of problems still dog the new president. He faces calls for investigations into his inner circle’s dealings with Russia, and nobody expects the midnight tweets lambasting his opponents to stop soon.

But the congressional address offered a real moment. Whether “pivot,” “growth” or nothing at all, it already ranks as a milestone in the Trump presidency.

• • •

A few other nuggets gathered along the campaign trail:

• Speculation surrounding the potential mayoral candidacy of Democrat Betty Jean Grant all hinges on whether she will forfeit her seat in the Erie County Legislature to challenge Byron Brown and Mark Schroeder in the September primary. It’s an important “if.”

• Zellner appears elated over his new and friendlier relationship with Andrew Cuomo. The governor’s headlining presence at the party fundraiser on Feb. 16 filled coffers with more than $300,000 – one of the party’s most successful efforts.

There was a time when Cuomo ignored the Zellner organization and the one headed by Len Lenihan before him. That has changed.

Cuomo now gains a committed organization as he heads toward the 2018 election year. And Zellner reaps the benefits of a major political figure willing to help raise money.

• It used to be that Sen. Chuck Schumer arrived at local events in a beat-up car with a local staffer. But the new Senate minority leader made his grand entrance a few days ago to a local appearance accompanied by Capitol and Buffalo police, and a fortified SUV.

“They made me take it,” Schumer shrugged.

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