President Trump was supposed to travel to Baltimore on Wednesday for an event focused on redevelopment of urban areas. But an administration spokesman said Monday that the event will take place at the White House instead.
The Rev. Donté L. Hickman Sr., the pastor who invited the president to Baltimore, said he received a call Monday morning from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, informing him of the change in plans.
Hickman, pastor of Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, said Trump was planning to sign an executive order addressing “opportunity zones” in cities.
According to Hickman, “they wanted to stay closer to home for the rollout of the executive order” because of recent changes in the administration, including Trump’s announcement this weekend that chief of staff John F. Kelly would depart by year’s end.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the meeting was “moved to the White House due to scheduling.”
The visit would have been Trump’s first to Baltimore, an overwhelmingly Democratic city about 47 miles northeast of the White House that the president has cited when talking about rising crime rates.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — a moderate Republican who has frequently distanced himself from Trump and was reelected last month with significant Democratic support — was not planning to attend, his spokeswoman said Monday. The president is deeply unpopular in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2 to 1.
Hickman said he had expected the canceled event in Baltimore to include business leaders, community leaders and pastors. He said he informed Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) of the president’s visit last week.
The pastor, who plans to attend the White House meeting, said Pugh “was interested” in coming but was waiting for a formal invitation. Cummings — who lives in Baltimore and starting in January will chair the influential House Oversight Committee — “wanted to have some time to look things over,” Hickman said. “[Cummings] commended the efforts and wanted to be sure that the benefits would actually come.”
A spokesman for Pugh said Monday that she did not have the meeting on her calendar. A spokesman for Cummings did not say whether the congressman would attend the event Wednesday but said he “was informed of the change of venue to the White House” on Monday morning.
Hickman said Kushner, whom he met with at the White House this summer to discuss federal help in redeveloping East Baltimore, told him that he hoped to reschedule a presidential visit to the city in the coming year.
Hickman’s church is heavily involved with community development in East Baltimore and has received government funding for its efforts.
The church helped rebuild a senior citizens center across the street that burned down during the violence following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015.
Hickman said he and several other East Baltimore pastors have worked with Democratic and Republican administrations, at every level of government, over the past 12 years to bring development to struggling city neighborhoods.
“We have to take advantage of resources now,” he said. “And we are ready to go. We have several shovel-ready projects.”
The pastor said he can envision Baltimore becoming a national model for redevelopment of economically distressed neighborhoods.
“The way I see it, the dollars are not partisan; they are public,” Hickman said. “We are focused on what is necessary for our community. People ask, ‘Why with President Trump?’ My response is, ‘Poor people in poor communities can’t wait.’ ”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.