Some Pittsburgh residents want Donald Trump to stay away from their city

"You don't know what's going to come out of his mouth," said Steve Pepper, 65, a member of the Tree of Life synagogue.
Image: Mourner
A mouner stands in front of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.Matt Rourke / AP

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By Phil McCausland and Dareh Gregorian

PITTSBURGH — Residents here are steeling themselves for President Donald Trump's planned Tuesday visit, with some saying the commander-in-chief shouldn't come because of his polarizing rhetoric.

"I wish he weren't coming. It just messes it up for everybody," said Jayne Cox, 70.

Cox was one of scores of area residents who descended upon makeshift memorials for victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill to pay their respects.

Eleven people were killed by the gunman, who allegedly yelled "All Jews must die" before he opened fire, according to witnesses.

The White House on Monday afternoon announced Trump and his wife Melania would be going to the Steel City on Tuesday to show their support for the Jewish community. Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are both Jewish, will also travel with the president, a White House official said.

The Pittsburgh chapter of the progressive group "Bend the Arc: Jewish Action" had already published an open letter over the weekend calling on Trump to stay away because "your words, your policies, and your Party have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement."

Over 47,000 people had signed the letter by Monday evening.

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Cox, 70, a Presbyterian who's lived in Squirrel Hill for 40 years, also suggested Trump should stay in Washington.

She said the accused shooter, Robert Bowers, "was nuts" — but the current political climate is crazy too.

"I don’t blame the president, but I certainly think we can hold him responsible for making the atmosphere much more polarized," Cox said.

Steve Pepper, 65, a member of the Tree of Life, was still mourning his fellow worshipers, who he said were the backbone of the synagogue. The Squirrel Hill resident, who has his own eyeglass business, said he also wants Trump to stay away.

"You don't know what's going to come out of his mouth," he said. "There's a lot of people who don't want him to come here. What do we need him for?"

Mary Radcliffe, a 33-year-old math professor at Carnegie Mellon, came out to put down flowers at the memorial with her kids, aged 9 and 7. The older child wrote the word “GUN” in chalk on the sidewalk near the flowers and then crossed it out.

"There's a lot of people who don't want him to come here. What do we need him for?"

“I think [Trump] should stay the hell out of my neighborhood. I think a lot of people would agree with that,” Radcliffe said.

Republican Mark Mass, 54, said he's "not a fan" of the president's, but was more open to the visit.

"Pittsburgh is a conservative working class city, and though some of us don’t support Trump there are a lot of us who do. We’re not as opposed to Trump coming as the media depicts it," he said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday Trump simply wants to show his support for the community. She noted that his daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and their children are Jewish.

"The president cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country. He adores Jewish Americans as part of his own family. The president is the grandfather of Jewish grandchildren. His daughter is a Jewish American and his son-in-law a descendant of Holocaust survivors," Sanders said.

Noting that people in Pittsburgh are "grieving, they're hurting," Sanders said "the president wants to be there to show the support of this administration for the Jewish community."

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was presiding over services at Tree of Life when the bloodshed erupted at the synagogue, said he would welcome a Trump visit — and less hateful rhetoric.

"We turn to the leaders of our country, and we've gotta stop hate," he told "Today" outside the synagogue early Monday. "And it can't just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act to tone down the rhetoric."

Phil McCausland reported from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.

Monica Alba contributed.