Just hours after Thursday headlines announced next week’s Elma campaign rally featuring Steve Bannon, opposition began mounting to any local appearance by the nationalist standard-bearer and former aide to President Trump.
Concern especially surrounded Bannon’s scheduled visit on Wednesday to a fundraiser at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora for Republican Assemblyman David J. DiPietro. Several artists and officials associated with the inn said any Bannon connection to the famed restaurant and hotel with roots dating to 1897 could spur controversy and damage the “Roycroft brand.”
“I’m seeing a lot on social media about boycotting the Roycroft Inn and all things Roycroft,” said Thomas Pafk, a master artisan furniture maker and member of the Roycrofters-At-Large Association. “To have this kind of person show up in this area is horrible.”
And Martha Buyer, an attorney and president of the association representing more than 200 artisans, said she is also concerned that social media conversation and more widespread opposition will harm the reputation of the inn and its associated artist groups.
Buyer said she recognizes the right of DiPietro and Bannon to hold the event and express their views, but opposes anything that could backfire on the Roycroft.
“There are people who will say ‘We could go to the Roycroft, but they hosted Steve Bannon,’ ” she said. “People are angry enough to have any excuse to go somewhere else. Nobody at the inn invited him but it is causing problems.”
Bannon, a key member of Trump’s campaign team and chief strategist in the early days of the administration, is slated to address a 4:30 p.m. rally on Wednesday at the Jamison Road Fire Hall prior to the DiPietro event at the Roycroft. All Republican candidates from throughout the region have been invited to the fire hall rally, designed to energize voters to go to the polls on Election Day.
It is expected that Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, who is facing federal charges of insider trading, will loom as a major beneficiary of the effort since Republican leaders continue to fear that some voters will prove reluctant to support Collins while he is under indictment. The congressman and the GOP, in turn, have emphasized the need to keep the seat in Republican hands as Democrats mount a serious challenge to take over the House of Representatives.
But Bannon’s slated appearance at the fire hall, apart from the DiPietro fundraiser, is also drawing fire. No group has announced protests like those occurring at similar Bannon appearances around the country, however.
Richard Lipsitz, president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, has already pronounced support for Democrat Nathan McMurray – the Collins opponent – as his group’s top priority in the 2018 election. He issued a Thursday statement denouncing the Bannon appearance and “his message of white nationalism,” while pointing to the rally as evidence that the most Republican congressional district in the state has become competitive.
“It is fitting that a campaign that supports a sitting congressman who has been indicted on serious charges of insider trading and lying to federal law enforcement agents is bringing the mastermind of the Trump program to the 27th Congressional District,” Lipsitz said. “This is a desperate attempt to hold onto his seat.”
DiPietro did not return a phone call seeking comment. But his campaign manager, Michael R. Caputo, denounced the efforts of “area leftist activists” and “mob rule” (a new and frequent Trump mantra) as contrary to the free-expression views of Elbert Hubbard, the artist and philosopher who founded the Roycroft movement and established an artist colony at the East Aurora campus in 1895.
“They should think about the downside of cancelling an event at a venue founded by a champion of free expression,” Caputo said. “If they do that, Elbert Hubbard will be spinning in his grave.”
Caputo added he is unaware of any opposition to a recent fundraiser held at the inn by McMurray supporters. He said the DiPietro campaign has received no pushback from the inn’s management and has no plans to cancel the event.
“If there’s a problem, they need to tell us so,” he said.
Martha Augat, Roycroft innkeeper, did not return a call seeking comment.
But Buyer and Pafk of the Roycrofters-At-Large Association emphasize that people are already targeting the inn that once housed a major artisan colony and they fear adverse publicity.
“His presence hurts the organization I lead,” Buyer said of Bannon, noting the league annually sponsors two fine arts shows and a chamber music festival.
Pafk labeled Bannon a “vile human being” because of his far-right views. He said the DiPietro campaign should be concerned about any “collateral damage” to East Aurora and the Roycroft Inn.
“I don’t know what DiPietro was thinking,” he said.
Caputo, who has been associated with Bannon in several election projects around the country this year, rejected criticism of the far-right activist and said he “is Wyoming County; he is southern Erie County.”
“He represents the district,” Caputo said.