On Monday, the Tournament of Roses organization announced that actor Gary Sinise, known for his work in Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, was chosen as the grand marshal for the 129th Rose Parade, to be held Jan. 1.
This year's theme is "making a difference." Sinise was cited for being a humanitarian and donating time and cash to veterans. In a statement, Tournament of Roses president Lance Tibbet said, "Gary’s humanitarian work with our defenders, veterans, first responders and their families over the years embodies our theme to the fullest."
But some critics are concerned that this could be a divisive choice. Sinise is a founder of a conservative group that gave early voice to then-presidential contender Donald Trump, who is now historically unpopular in California. In July 2015, only a few weeks after Trump kicked off his campaign for president by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, the Hollywood organization Sinise started, Friends of Abe, hosted the future president at a private event at a Brentwood hotel. At the mixer, Trump said the United States should have invaded Mexico. Trump's presence in Los Angeles County, which is immigrant-friendly and about half Latino, outraged some political organizations, which demonstrated outside the Sunset Boulevard event.
"It's not a good look for the city of Pasadena," says Maria Teresa Borden of the pro-immigrant group Indivisble Highland Park. "This is a region understood to be friendly to immigrants for centuries."
"I'm not going to take anything away from Sinise's work with veterans," she adds, "but I would have thought perhaps they would have chosen someone a little more representative of the region."
John G. Vigna, communications director for the California Democratic Party, noted that the president has been in hot water with some supporters of the very veterans targeted by Sinise's philanthropy. Trump reportedly told the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in action in Niger earlier this month, that the soldier "knew what he signed up for."
"We hope Mr. Sinise uses his friendship with Donald Trump to urge Mr. Trump to be more supportive and grateful to veterans and to show respect and empathy for the grieving families of soldiers who give their lives for our country," Vigna said via email.
However, Sinise hasn't been in lock-step with Trump. Via email, his spokeswoman said, "Gary Sinise did not campaign for Donald Trump. Also, he has not been involved with running FOA [Friends of Abe] for several years, was not involved in the organization of the event that Donald Trump attended, and did not attend that event."
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In July 2015, only a few weeks after Friends of Abe hosted the would-be commander in chief in Los Angeles, Trump attacked U.S. Sen. John McCain, saying, "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
McCain was a Navy pilot shot down during the Vietnam War. He spent 5½ years in a North Vietnamese prison. He was offered release but refused to be let go before fellow U.S. detainees captured long before him. For that he was tortured.
Sinise penned an open letter to Trump stating, in part, "I fail to understand your motive in attacking Senator McCain by suggesting that he has not earned a place of honor as a war hero for serving his country, getting shot down, surviving severe injuries from that shoot down, and then enduring 5½ years of brutal torture at the hands of the enemy."
In his letter, he asked Trump to take back his remarks, which the president never did.