Sometimes, ruin porn is not just ruin porn.
While in Chester County on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump decided to make an old paper mill in Downingtown the poster-child for his economic message.
The Donald — or his staff — dashed off the following social media post, with a picture of the abandoned Sonoco Paper Mill, which is within walking distance from the borough’s government center.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2016
Locals in one of the state’s wealthiest counties did not like being the face of the Keystone State’s industrial decline.
Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell, a Democrat, fired back, calling the candidate a jerk.
There is nothing sad about Downingtown.That mill is a future high spd train stn You are uniformed, to put it mildy https://t.co/dgYRBTeCJQ
— Josh Maxwell (@maxwelljosh) April 25, 2016
To be honest, that abandoned paper mill and future train station looks better than Trump Taj Mahal. https://t.co/qeA73IN493
— Josh Maxwell (@maxwelljosh) April 26, 2016
He said an onslaught of negative emails and tweets followed.
— Luke Carstens (@lcarstens25) April 25, 2016
During primary season, candidates are a veritable moving political circus, descending on states for a few weeks to drum up votes before moving on. Part of Trump’s message during his Pennsylvania campaign rallies focused on its declining manufacturing sector.
“The state of Pennsylvania has lost more than 35 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2001. That’s unacceptable,” he said to a supportive crowd in West Chester. “We’re going to bring jobs back. Big league.”
Billy Penn and Politifact Pennsylvania fact-checked this claim, and it came back mostly true — the actual percentage of statewide manufacturing jobs lost during that period is 34.
Still, if you’re looking for an example of the Keystone State’s decline, you could do a lot better than Downingtown, about 35 miles from Philadelphia. Unemployment in the borough is around 4 percent, and Chester is the state’s wealthiest county per capita.
Maxwell said he hopes to use the brief and blinding spotlight of Trump’s tweet to draw positive attention to plans for redeveloping the old Sonoco mill into a train station-slash-mixed-use development.
In 2005, a fire wiped out the mill’s interior; subsequent attempts to revitalize it have stalled. According to Maxwell, PennDOT has committed the funds to move the borough’s Amtrak and SEPTA station into the old factory’s footprint, where it would be in a more central and walkable location.
And the borough has also started a new round of talks with developer The Hankin Group in Exton about adding commercial and residential space as a part of that redevelopment.
With that back story, Maxwell said he wished the candidate had stopped to learn a bit about where he was before firing off the errant tweet.
“People find something that fits their messaging,” he said. “But, I think you have to take into account the kind negative attention that brings into a community.”
Speaking of negative attention, the small-town mayor and Statehouse hopeful has pivoted away from some of his own earlier, harsh remarks.
“I don’t want my reputation to be that I called a presidential candidate a jerk,” said Maxwell.
For his part, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania’s Republican primary by a landslide. His campaign did not respond to request for comment.