WASHINGTON – "Upper New York" clearly doesn't have a stiff upper lip.
Instead, upper lips were quivering with rage all across upstate New York Thursday in reaction to President Donald Trump's suggestion that manufacturing workers may want to leave the region.
Leading the outrage was Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who took to social media to invite the president to Western New York to see for himself that it's not the hopeless place that he made upstate out to be.
"Instead of criticizing upstate (not "upper") NY I suggest President Trump visit WNY and see the economic turnaround," Poloncarz said on Facebook. "We are rebuilding our economy and advanced manufacturing is leading the way. Don't criticize what you don't know, sir."
Even Republicans took turns putting the Republican president in his place.
"Disappointed in @realDonaldTrump a president from New York bashing Upstate New York. Sad. I had hoped for better,” tweeted Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr., a Republican.
All of this, and plenty more, stems from Trump's offhand comments in a Wall Street Journal interview released Wednesday. Discussing the opening of a new manufacturing facility in Wisconsin, Trump suggested that people in "upper New York" and other supposedly troubled areas may want to move to the Badger State or other places where new factories are sprouting up.
“You’re going to need people to work in these massive plants,” Trump said. "I’m going to start explaining to people: When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It's OK. Don't worry about your house.”
Seeing that, Poloncarz said in an interview that he first thought: "It was kind of incredible." But on further reflection, the county executive said: "After the last six months, nothing the president says should surprise me."
Poloncarz said he was offended, though, because Trump's apparent perception of "Upper New York" was rooted in the factory closures of past decades, not in the comeback that metro Buffalo and other upstate communities are experiencing today.
"He should come to Western New York and see the advanced manufacturing we have here," Poloncarz said in the interview. "He should go visit the GM plant in the Town of Tonawanda and some of the smaller manufacturers. He should come see what Tesla and Panasonic are doing here."
Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican whose district includes Utica and Binghamton, invited the president to her district, too. She noted in a statement that just last week she was at a "Made in America" event at the White House where she featured Sherrill Manufacturing, the only flatware manufacturer in the nation.
"Instead of urging people to leave our region, we should be working to implement policies that help small business owners and family farmers to draw people and jobs back to our region," Tenney said in a statement. "Today I renew my invitation for the president to visit our area and encourage him to come see the efforts we're making to revive our once-thriving economy."
As for what the president told the Wall Street Journal, Tenney said: "I hope President Trump's comments about Upstate New York were taken out of context."
Democrats, predictably, weren't quite so polite in reviewing Trump's remarks. Instead, some tried to turn it into campaign fodder.
A Democratic candidate for Erie County clerk, Steve Cichon, did something county clerk candidates rarely do. He wrote an umbrage-filled letter to the president.
"Judging by your comments today in the Wall Street Journal, it sounds like you have become a victim of 'fake news,'" Cichon wrote. "The truth is, we're doing great in 'upper' New York State, and things are only getting better here, especially in Erie County."
Down in the Southern Tier, a Democrat challenging Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, issued both a statement and a tweet aimed at getting attention amid the kerfuffle.
"We're not abandoning Upstate New York," the candidate, longtime Corning school teacher Rick Gallant, tweeted. "This rhetoric demonstrates just how out of touch our president really is."
And State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie – whose district is part of "Upper New York" only if you consider the Bronx part of "Upper New York – called Trump's comment's "beyond reprehensible."
In the wake of the uproar, The Buffalo News sent an email to a White House spokesman, asking if Trump would be visiting upstate New York anytime soon and whether the administration had any further comment on all the criticism it was receiving. The spokesman never responded to the email.
Soon, though, the president might have something else to respond to: a letter from Poloncarz, detailing his concerns.
The county executive isn't sure he needs to send Trump a letter, though.
"Twitter is something he understands more," Poloncarz said.