Trump praises ‘New York values’ before hometown crowd

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Holly Bailey
·National Correspondent
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Donald Trump addresses the New York State Republican Gala April 14 in New York. (Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump took the stage inside the ballroom of a hotel he built here Thursday night and cast himself not only as a defining figure in the architecture of New York but as a staunch defender of its values.

In a speech before a mostly adoring hometown crowd at the New York State Republican Gala, Trump never once mentioned his rival Ted Cruz by name, but repeatedly mocked the Texas senator’s criticism of “New York values,” insisting that it is those core beliefs that have the ability to get the country back on track.

“In our darkest moments as a city, we showed the world the very, very best in terms of bravery, heart and soul of America,” Trump said, recalling the 9/11 attacks. “These are the values we need to make America great again… to bring America together again… to heal America’s wounds.”

The GOP frontrunner, reading from notes, cited a litany of values he said the city embodies — including “honesty and straight talk,” devotion to family and a strong work ethic. He also cited the city’s “big energy,” joking that if his former rival Jeb Bush, whom he famously derided as “low-energy,” were to move to New York, he’d “have much more energy.”

All three remaining Republican presidential hopefuls, Trump, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, addressed the annual dinner, held just days before Tuesday’s New York primary. According to multiple polls, Trump leads in his home state by more than 20 points, but Kasich and Cruz are desperately trying to keep the real estate mogul from cracking the 50 percent mark, which would award him all the state’s 95 delegates.

Trump appeared so confident heading into Tuesday that he spent most of his speech not even talking about his bid for the presidency. Instead, he regaled the crowd with tales of his personal history in New York, including his role in rebuilding the Grand Hyatt, where Thursday’s GOP dinner was held. “Who the hell wants to talk about politics?” Trump declared at one point. “It’s boring.”

Slideshow: The battle for New York >>>

Indeed, Trump, who spoke first, proved a hard act to follow. Kasich, who took the stage next, could barely be heard over the clink and clanging of silverware and dishes as waiters served the dinner’s main course. But it was Cruz who received the most dismal reception, as he delivered a version of his stump speech that was largely ignored by the chattering crowd.

“I have not built any buildings in New York City,” Cruz told the crowd, adding that instead, he had spent his life “defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” The line, designed for applause, attracted almost no reaction from the largely pro-Trump audience.

Some of the more eventful moments of the night happened well before the dinner, as hundreds of anti-Trump protesters sought to disrupt the event by blocking streets and sidewalks outside the hotel. At one point, a group of protesters made it inside the hotel, surrounding media lined up near a security checkpoint outside the ballroom where the dinner was held.

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Hundreds of protesters and activists march during a demonstration near a midtown hotel which is hosting a black-tie fund-raiser for the state Republican Party on April 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Slideshow: Anti-Trump protests in New York City >>>

Inside the dinner, there were few fireworks. At one point, as Trump was speaking, a woman rose to her feet, waving a napkin. Spying her, the GOP frontrunner paused briefly, as if he thought she was trying to interrupt his speech. But as it became clear she was a fan of his, he even pointed her out to the rest of the audience.

“Yeah, baby!” she yelled, addressing the GOP frontrunner as “good-lookin’.”

Onstage, Trump predicted a big win in New York on Tuesday and looked beyond to what he said would be an “exciting four or five weeks.” He predicted he would get the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination before the party’s convention in Cleveland in July.

From the crowd, a cry rang out. “Bring it home, Donald!” someone yelled. “Bring it home!”

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, gestures while speaking to the New York Republican State Committee Annual Gala in New York. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)