Protesters greet Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on visit to Chicago area: ‘Illinois is a place where we say gay. We’re proud of it.’

Ron DeSantis, mulling a GOP run for president, meets with law enforcement in Elmhurst and denounces ‘woke policies enacted by Leftist politicians’ in blue states and cities.

SHARE Protesters greet Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on visit to Chicago area: ‘Illinois is a place where we say gay. We’re proud of it.’
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More than 100 activists protest Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ visit to the Knights of Columbus hall in Elmhurst, where he met with police union members.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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Protesters rallied in Elmhurst on Monday to decry the visit of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who gave a speech to law enforcement.

DeSantis spoke at an invitation-only gathering at a Knights of Columbus hall, the last of three stops in a series of Presidents Day “Back the Blue” events that also included visits to New York and Philadelphia.

Some of the protesters said DeSantis, who is considering a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, represents the worst parts of the GOP.

“He is a symptom of a whole lot of what’s wrong”, said Sue Sporte, 75, from Oak Park.

“We should be a country that accepts everyone. And that includes transgender people. It includes gay people,” Sporte said.

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Demonstrators carried pro-LGBTQ and abortion signs as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a stop in Elmhurst, part of a three-city Presidents Day back-the-badge swing. The Republican, who won a landslide re-election bid last year, is considering a run for president next year.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

She pointed to the policies that DeSantis has championed in Florida and the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which outlawed classroom instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Illinois is a place where we say gay. We’re proud of it,” said 16-year-old Eric Willoughby, a junior at Hinsdale Central High School.

Dozens of police lined the other side of York Street to keep protesters on the sidewalk. One officer kept watch from atop the hall.

Sporte’s friend, Cynthia Breulin, said she has been to several protests of GOP speakers but had never seen a police presence like this one.

“Are they afraid of us?” she asked.

One man was arrested at the rally, according to protest organizer Indivisible Chicago. Elmhurst police did not immediately confirm details of the incident.

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State Sen. Darren Bailey poses for a photo with a supporter outside the Knights of Columbus hall. Last year, Bailey, a farmer from downstate Xenia, lost a challenge to J.B. Pritzker for governor.

Big names in state GOP politics were seen entering the event, including DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick and state Sen. Darren Bailey, who lost his race for governor last year.

“Another day, another fight. We’ll get there,” Bailey said as he entered the venue.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara Jr., whose union helped promote DeSantis’ visit, said he was out of town and did not attend.

The FOP’s involvement forced Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, the former CPS chief who is endorsed by the union, to distance himself from the event. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign used the opportunity to cast Vallas as a closet Republican.

When DeSantis announced last week that he would visit Illinois, elected officials from the deep blue state were quick to pounce.

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Supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis shouted at protesters across the street. One man was arrested, but police provided no details. Also on Monday, former President Donald Trump, who has already announced his bid for 2024, announced his own anti-crime plan.

“Ron DeSantis’ dangerous and hateful agenda has no place in Illinois,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., whose district covers parts of Elmhurst, posted on Twitter about the DeSantis visit:

“He’s here to say he met with Chicago law enforcement and uniquely understands the issues. He is fantasizing that this might give him a great sound bite he can use at some debate full of crazies trying to out-crazy each other,” Casten wrote.

Supporters also showed up for DeSantis.

“There’s a lot of hateful people out there,” Pete Saverino said of the protesters. He held a “thin blue line” flag. “Whatever they don’t like, they don’t tolerate,” the Des Plaines resident said.

One local resident stood watching from a distance and said officers had been setting up for the event since at least 7 a.m.

“OK, we’re an affluent community, but our tax dollars could be used for different things,” said the man, who asked to be identified as Joe H.

DeSantis waved to supporters as he left the rear of the venue and entered an SUV. A supporter cheered, “Future president.”

After the event, DeSantis wrote on Twitter that he met “with the men & women of law enforcement to discuss FL’s commitment to law & order.”

“Woke policies enacted by Leftist politicians have proven to be disastrous & these cities need to embrace law & order policies & support the police,” he said.

Trump takes aim at crime in Chicago — again

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, who already announced a 2024 comeback bid, unveiled an anti-crime plan on the same day DeSantis was appealing on his three-state swing to what could be an important base vote for him — police. Trump said he would seek “a record investment in hiring, retention and training for police officers.”

Trump has punched at Chicago for years and on Monday resumed taking aim at the city. He said he would direct the Justice Department “to open civil rights investigations into radical leftist prosecutors’ offices, such as those in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco to determine whether they have illegally engaged in race-based law enforcement.”

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Protesters wave flags and hold signs outside an event held by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. On Twitter, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker wrote: “Ron DeSantis’ dangerous and hateful agenda has no place in Illinois.”

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