WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will speak at the opening ceremony of the New York City Veterans Day Parade next week as he returns to a city he no longer calls home, organizers and the White House announced Wednesday.
United War Veterans Council Chairman Douglas McGowan said Trump will offer a tribute to veterans ahead of Monday's 100th annual parade. While presidents have always been invited, McGowan said that, as far as he knows, Trump is the first to accept.
The announcement came just days after Trump said he has officially changed his residency from New York to Florida, where he owns several properties, including the Mar-a-Lago club, where he spends many winter weekends.
The Republican president was born in Queens and his brand has long been synonymous with the city. But he is deeply unpopular in the liberal bastion and has bashed New York's politicians for treating him badly.
Trump did not serve in the military, receiving multiple deferments that allowed him to avoid the Vietnam War draft. That included a medical exemption for bone spurs in his heels — a convenient diagnosis that many have questioned. Nonetheless, Trump has been a longtime promoter of the parade.
During the 1990s, he pledged $200,000 and offered to raise money from friends in exchange for being named the parade's grand marshal, The New York Times reported at the time. He also donated toward the creation of the city's Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"This is a day when we put politics aside to focus on honoring our veterans, and to re-commit ourselves as a community to providing them with the services they have earned, the services they deserve and, for many, the services they were denied," McGowan said in a statement.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has often traded barbs with Trump, told reporters he hoped the president would attend the event with a recognition that it "is not about him, this is about our veterans."
"It should not be politicized. It should not be turned into a spectacle," de Blasio said. "If he's coming here to truly honor veterans, God bless him. But I'd really like to see something a little different than what we've seen in some of his other appearances."
More than 25,000 parade participants, including veterans, active-duty military personnel and their supporters, are expected to march along Fifth Avenue during this year's event.
In addition to speaking at the kickoff event, Trump will lay a wreath at the Eternal Light memorial in Madison Square Park, White House spokesman Judd Deere said.
At last year's parade, marching bands played patriotic songs and onlookers waved American flags. That parade commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.