While many prominent Democrats have vowed to shun the inauguration of America’s 45th President, the one person who will be cheering him on in the stands will be one of Brooklyn’s own, longtime president of Crown Heights’ 77th Precinct Community Council, and newly-minted Republican James Caldwell.
Kings County Politics spoke with Mr. Caldwell en route to the ceremonies in Washington D.C.
“When Hillary went down, they all went down too.”
This comment came in response to the 77th precinct council’s November meeting. High attendance is the norm, but this meeting was unusually robust, as it featured the first-ever visit to Crown Heights by members of Trump’s campaign, specifically the Eric Trump Foundation, and the comment was aimed squarely at the members of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party, a party, which until recently, Mr. Caldwell had been a steadfast member of.
Now after hours on the road, he stands in a long queue to take a seat in a stark white chair, as the world watches one its most polarizing figures accept the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States.
The chain of events that would eventually lead him to switch parties started well before the summer of 2015. The switch has since turned into something of a groundswell for Mr. Caldwell, but his road to today’s inauguration started with a simple phone call, the caller an NYPD officer from the 77th, had asked for Mr. Caldwell’s assistance. Caldwell — who describes himself as a Republican, a President, a veteran and a black man, in that order — has a long history of community advocacy, and this particular case was treated with the same sense of urgency he is known to tap into. However, this was a case he had seen one time too many: the case of the Big Guys vs. the Little People.
According to the officer, an elderly resident whose home was seized by the New York City Marshall in 2015 despite numerous appeals, had now resorted to sleeping in her car. After failing to receive help from a number of Brooklyn Democrats, Mr. Caldwell decided to seek help from an unlikely source, Donald Trump. Here, Mr. Caldwell stops to mention the one elected that did respond to his requests, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James.
It was for this reason, according to Caldwell, that he had been contacted by the precinct in the first place. “These (Brooklyn) Democrats don’t do nothing except throw a little money on a problem. I understand what the city needs because I am a big part of it. I have 18 years of relationships.”
But relationships alone are no substitute for common sense. When asked directly how Mr. Caldwell became acquainted with the Eric Trump Foundation, he stops short, but resumes and begins a long-winded story that starts with one of his signature Caldwellian flourishes, “Well, now let’s see now…”
In short, after arriving at Trump Towers – alone and with no real agenda other than to speak with somebody, anybody who could relay a message to Mr. Trump – he was denied access. He returned the next day, jubilant and un-flummoxed, and noticeably in the accompaniment of a uniformed NYPD escort. (For privacy reasons, Caldwell declined to provide a name.) The optics gained him a two-minute audience with Lynn Patton, Vice President of the Eric Trump Foundation. An invitation to the final presidential debate on October 19 soon followed. The all-expense-paid trip included a ticket for both him and the community resident he had promised to help, courtesy of the Eric Trump Foundation. After the debate, Ms. Patton arranged for a brief introduction. True to form, Mr. Caldwell, spoke little during the encounter, choosing instead to pose gamely for a series of photographs with Mr. Trump and the community resident.
Moved by Mr. Caldwell’s steadfast advocacy, Ms. Patton promised that she would use her considerable influence to see the issue through, and followed-up by prominently featuring the Foundation’s work with the 77th precinct on a subsequent interview with a local Fox News program.
Ultimately Caldwell, a controversial figure in his own right, hopes to drive his message to the president-elect directly, with a proposal he thinks dovetails nicely with Trump’s “commitment to the American police officer,” and Mr. Caldwell’s top priority: increasing community relations with the NYPD.
“Over the course of the years, I have addressed rookies to let them know how we in the community support them, how we have brought the police and the community together to do things that help our young people, and help our seniors. We need order in our communities, and we need to respect cops throughout the five boroughs. Now with Mr. Trump, all we need is a plan.”
Mr. Caldwell, ardent supporter of law and order and former super-prime voter for the Democrat Party, was one of only nine residents in his electoral district who voted for the Republican nominee, and most likely, one of the few willing to drive over two hundred miles to see the ceremonies in-person, having braved “DeploraBall protesters, impeachment backers and extreme gridlock, is set within minutes to cheer on a man that has divided so many, with the hopes that he can unite a city, and possibly, a nation.