The Big Grift?
The pollsters and statisticians are predicting that Trump will lose the election to Hillary Clinton. But of course, this hinges on how one defines “lose.” Donald Trump will likely find a way to financially profit from his political adventure, his supporters are giving him millions of dollars, his narcissism has been further expanded and fueled, and if this was all just an elaborate hustle, Trump has, in many ways, lost nothing and gained much. -- Chauncey DeVega, AlterNet, Aug. 5, 2016
Bottom line: It would have taken an act of the California Legislature to meet Trump’s demand for a redevelopment zone of that size in that part of metropolitan Fresno. -- George Hostetter, Fresno Bee, Aug. 28, 2015
The nation, represented by numerous TV celebrities of the brilliant opinion sort, appears to be far gone down a great vortex of embarrassment denied. It is denied, of course, because in a presidential year all the rhetorical bunting of the exceptional nation that will just keep on growing richer and more powerful, is nailed up here, there and everywhere "the winds of freedom blow," therefore this is no season for a national embarrassment the size of Donald Trump.
Yet, there he is, beating the heads of the worthy to pulp with his schtick. The media has been obsessed for months with every new outrage. Trump is having a wonderful time lashing out at legions of easily available targets, and the rest he makes up.
It is painful to say this -- the following -- because it seems too obvious to us and yet to entertain such an obvious deduction about the candidate for the Party of No is, well, not polite and will not be forgiven. I suppose it is fitting that it come from the north San Joaquin Valley, until recently such a profitable sandbox for our childlike real estate developers, a species Donald Trump claims as his own.
We will be even less forgiven, if forgiven at all, by those of the Thundering Self-Righteousness Brigades, who, like one of Cicero's victims, retired to their villas to study invective in preparation for publication of their denuncias de Trump.
I recognize that I am flying against the gale winds of the authority of all our prophets of rectitude and political propriety -- from the psychiatrists to the economists -- when I ask: Has anyone considered the idea that Trump is running a long con, has no interest at all in winning the election but is grifting his donors for every cent he can get out of them and carry away while rallying the rubes to his bunting?
For a tycoon that has gone bankrupt seven times, maybe the zombie banks are not where the money is. But politics in a post-Citizens Alliance world? It's BEE-YOOO-TI-FOOL! It's just been sitting there waiting for a con man with a large enough conception of his vocation.
The post-Citizens Alliance world has met its Henry Gondorff 1. in The Donald. Is the Trump campaign the largest, most public grift since "too big to fail"?
(1) "The Sting," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sting
Trump is paying a price for being late to the TV ad party
Hillary Clinton and super PACs supporting her have budgeted $100 million for TV ads between now and the November election. That’s around $97 million more than Donald Trump and his super PACs have set aside for TV ads. According to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“It’s such a stark difference that it’s hard to believe that they’re real,” said Sarah Bryner, the center's research director.
But numbers don’t lie. And here are some others. The Trump campaign reported raising around $80 million last month. Now that he’s sitting on a pile of cash, will Trump finally break into TV? We don’t know. The Trump campaign didn’t respond to our interview requests.
But even if Trump decides to jump into TV now, he may not get the ad slots he wants.
“If the time slots are gone, they’re gone," said David Caputo, professor of Political Science at Pace University. "So that’s the disadvantage of being late.”
By now, other candidates have already snapped up prime time slots. Why? Because TV works.
“The fact that the electorate tends to skew a little bit older," said Steve Passwaiter, vice president and general manager at Kantar Media CMAG, which tracks campaign spending. "I think that also helps TV a lot.”
Because those older, reliable voters, still tune in to TV. Passwaiter said politicians also like to run ads during big events like the Olympics, which everyone watches.
So far Trump has relied on social media and free media, and he could keep doing that.
But Passwaiter couldn’t think of any modern candidate who’s won the presidential race without hitting the TV airwaves. Hard.
We Can’t Look Away: The Joy of Watching Donald Trump's Epic Presidential Trainwreck
Trump’s campaign and his takeover of the Republican Party are the political equivalents of a car accident.
Chauncey DeVega / Salon
When I was a teenager, my friend and I enjoyed taking a daily walk through the large cemetery in our neighborhood. The cemetery was located near the local state university and situated beneath a steep hill where luxury condos somehow coexisted next to subsidized housing for the elderly and poor. As teenage boys of the hip-hop generation tended to do, we argued about if Rakim would win a rap battle against Big Daddy Kane, lied about our sex lives, tried to figure out if we would do a dance routine at the next basement party like Kid and Play in the movie “House Party,” and generally got into mischief after reading the names on the tombstones.
When cars would speed down the hill and make the sharp turn at its base, their tires would loudly squeal. As we walked about the cemetery, I would yell out “boom” whenever I heard that cue. On one Saturday afternoon, my “boom” was met with the sound of a collision and screams. My friend and I were shocked by my uncanny timing, and what we later joked, must have been an act of telekinesis or clairvoyance. We ran to the sound of the noise and there was a car, overturned several times, and smashed beyond belief. The very young male driver failed to make the turn. He was standing nearby, thrown from the car, covered in blood and in shock at what had just happened. His female companion was sitting on the ground next to him crying.
Donald Trump’s campaign and his takeover of the Republican Party are the political equivalents of a car accident. The American corporate news media—and many among the public, on both the left and the right—are participating in an act of political rubbernecking. They are transfixed by the skid marks on the road and the broken bodies lying nearby.
Liberal schadenfreude is also compelling; the apparent implosion of the Republican Party under the boot heel of Donald Trump is transfixing.
The headlines provide ample evidence of these raw pleasures. They read, “Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party,” “Republicans are Plotting an Intervention,” “Is Donald Trump throwing his campaign?” and that he is causing a “freak-out” by pushing the GOP to its “breaking point.”
I am transparent in my sentiments. I will not hide or conceal how I am happy that Donald Trump is causing mayhem and chaos for the Republican Party. He is a pitiable and pathetic human being. The Republican Party is the country’s largest white identity organization. I laugh and smile as the racism and bigotry that has been the name brand and driving force of conservative politics and the Republican Party since at least the end of the 1960s has summoned a monster in Donald Trump that they cannot control. The name of the iconic Japanese monster “Godzilla” or “Gojira” roughly translates into “gorilla whale” in English. This is a perfect label for Donald Trump, he who is the “gorilla whale” causing trouble for the Republican Party and movement conservatives.
Most among the chattering classes and commentariat are not so honest in their feelings about Donald Trump and the tumult he is causing the Republican Party. Some of this is a function of denial. Many of the so-called “smart people” have still not come to terms with how they so misjudged the enduring allure and appeal of Trump’s racism and bigotry in the Age of Obama. Others are still in shock about the ease with which Donald Trump jettisoned the standing norms and rules about how political campaigns and elections in contemporary American politics are supposed to be conducted. Here, one should not forget that while the Fourth Estate is supposed to be a critic and watchdog of the powerful in a democracy, they are also in bed with institutional power, enforcing its rules and norms. And there are others in the corporate news media who are complicit (if not actively in league) with Donald Trump, a man who has received at least two billion dollars in free media exposure during the 2016 presidential cycle.
Across all of those groups, there is a reluctance to admit that Donald Trump gamed and hustled them on an epic scale.
The meta game is not complicated. The American corporate news media operates within a very narrow limit of what constitutes the “approved public discourse.” Certain voices and “expert opinions” are allowed. Others are rejected as too far outside of the “mainstream.” There is an ecosystem at work which filters certain guests and viewpoints across the major networks. These guests in turn know what their assigned role is within the highly choreographed—although not often if ever explicitly stated—rules of the performance. The host moderates; “both sides” of an issue are presented; false equivalency is maintained; untruths and outright lies are allowed to go uninterrogated and exposed; the echo chamber reverberates; the commercials are then played.
The viewers are given lots of “information” but not much critical insight or real knowledge of complex events. Why? Because generalists and political insiders that the producers have access to are featured; real experts who would speak plainly and directly on the issues of the day are for the most part avoided.
This model of news coverage and presentation is utterly incapable of effectively confronting the Donald Trump phenomenon.
Donald Trump is an insider who knows these rules and decided to break them. He maintains neither a veneer of competence nor professional political acumen. Trump is a reality TV show celebrity. The “reality” in “reality TV” is itself a lie. Trump knew that he could play on emotion and his status as a “successful” celebrity to win voters. In all, he is a fantasy projection and avatar, a professional wrestling political performance artist.
Media scholar Neil Postman’s warnings about the perils of distraction, entertain, politics, and spectacle have also been shown to be prescient in terms of explaining the allure of Donald Trump. Writing at CNN, Will Bunch explains:
"The amazing part is that way back in 1985—the year Stern conquered the New York airwaves and a brash young Trump was best known for breaking apart the upstart USFL football league—one prophet predicted today’s political crisis. That prophet’s name was Neil Postman, a New York University professor and media critic. His landmark book 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' predicted that schlock entertainment values would eventually strangle American democracy like a cluster of poison ivy."
"Postman’s thesis was that the ominous warnings of an Orwellian future, complete with totalitarian censorship, had badly missed the mark. 'Censorship, after all, is the tribute tyrants pay to an assumption that the public knows the difference between serious discourse and entertainment—and cares,' the media theorist wrote. 'How delighted would all the kings, czars and fuhrers of the past and commissars of the present be to know that censorship is not a necessity when all political discourse takes the form of a jest.'"
"It’s unlikely that Trump has ever read 'Amusing Ourselves to Death,' but his ascent would not have surprised Postman (who died in 2002)."
The pollsters and statisticians are predicting that Trump will lose the election to Hillary Clinton. But of course, this hinges on how one defines “lose.” Donald Trump will likely find a way to financially profit from his political adventure, his supporters are giving him millions of dollars, his narcissism has been further expanded and fueled, and if this was all just an elaborate hustle, Trump has, in many ways, lost nothing and gained much.
But this is a bizarre political year where the normal rules have apparently been suspended. Rationality must sometimes surrender to emotion. Trump’s supporters do not care about his policy expertise or knowledge. They love Trump because he makes politics “fun” with his attacks on “political correctness,” incitements to violence, and professional wrestling style carnival barker speeches. In the era of the 24/7 cable news cycle, a public with a profoundly limited attention span—and where they receive immediate pleasure and dopamine hits from the distractions provided by their cell phones and “likes” on social media which they, in turn, use to drown out the anxieties of living in a culture of cruelty and under the neoliberal nightmare—I worry that a type of political decision-making predicated on “fun” is not an outlier.
If the American people in this moment of populist upset and rage want “fun” they will not choose the boring competence of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Donald Trump is the most entertaining thing in American politics today. Both the corporate news media and many millions of the American people know this to be true.
As the old saying goes, the big story is not when the plane lands safely but when it crashes. As such, political rubbernecking is great sport and entertainment.
Donald Trump is exploiting this fact to the maximum.
Wall Street Journal
Donald Trump’s Business Plan Left a Trail of Unpaid Bills
Hardball tactics from the presumptive Republican nominee’s real-estate career had some suppliers claiming he shortchanged them
Donald Trump often boasts on the presidential campaign trail that hardball tactics helped make him a successful businessman, an approach many voters say they admire. Those tactics have also left behind bitter tales among business owners who say he shortchanged them.
A review of court filings from jurisdictions in 33 states, along with interviews with business people, real-estate executives and others, shows a pattern over Mr. Trump’s 40-year career of his sometimes refusing to pay what some business owners said Trump companies owed them.
A chandelier shop, a curtain maker, a lawyer and others have said Mr. Trump’s companies agreed to buy goods and services, then reneged when some or all were delivered.
Larry Walters, whose Las Vegas drapery factory supplied Mr. Trump’s hotel there eight years ago, said the developer, Trump Ruffin, wouldn’t pay for additional work it demanded beyond the original contract. When Mr. Walters then refused to turn over some fabric, sheriff’s deputies burst into his factory after Trump Ruffin sued him. Trucks took the fabric away.
Mr. Walters said he never had payment problems with other casino or hotel clients. A review of Las Vegas court records showed no other legal disputes over payments involving him. Mr. Walters agreed to a settlement with Trump Ruffin that was about $380,000 short of what he said he was owed, court records show. He settled, he said, because “they were going to drag it on for many, many years.”
Mr. Trump, in interviews with The Wall Street Journal in May, said “I love to hold back and negotiate when people don’t do good work.” He said of Mr. Walters that the developers “were unhappy with his work.”
“If they do a good job, I won’t cut them at all,” Mr. Trump said of businesses he contracts with, saying “it’s probably 1,000 to one where I pay.” He said he occasionally won’t pay fully when work is simply satisfactory or “an OK to bad job…If it’s OK, then I’ll sometimes cut them.” In dealing with public projects such as bridge-building, he said, “that should be the attitude of the country.”
“I pay thousands of bills on time,” he said, adding that suggesting otherwise is “disgusting.”
Payment disputes aren’t unusual in the construction industry, where aggressive developers sometimes leave behind dissatisfied vendors and contractors. Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, chief of Las Vegas Sands Corp., for example, has been involved in payment disputes with contractors concerning his Venetian casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Sands declined to comment.
Yet Mr. Trump’s withholding of payments stood out as particularly aggressive in the industry and in the broader business world, said some vendors who had trouble getting paid.
It is “a strong-arm tactic that is frowned on,” said Wayne Rivers, a small-business consultant in construction. The tactic is more common in Northeast construction than in other regions, he said, and is abnormal in much of American business.
Mr. Trump pushed the approach beyond construction and into day-to-day casino operations, said Jack O’Donnell, president of Mr. Trump’s Plaza casino in Atlantic City in the late 1980s. “Part of how he did business as a philosophy was to negotiate the best price he could. And then when it came time to pay the bills,” he said, Mr. Trump would say that “ ‘I’m going to pay you but I’m going to pay you 75% of what we agreed to.’ ”
“In our business it’s very difficult to operate that way. You’re dealing with people on an ongoing basis. Every time you order with them you can’t screw them because they won’t be your suppliers anymore,” Mr. O’Donnell said. Executives at the casino paid vendors fully despite Mr. Trump’s directives, he said, and “it used to infuriate him.”
Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization, said he didn’t know Mr. O’Donnell and that his account “is certainly not a company philosophy.” He said there is “no question that as a company we are demanding, but we are fair.” He declined to discuss specifics of cases the Journal brought to his attention. “To pick these needles out of a haystack, I don’t think is a fair story.”
Mr. Trump said the only unusual thing about his approach was that he pays bills faster than normal businesses. He said he sometimes gives bonuses for great work, and he agreed to provide names of such vendors. His spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, gave the Journal a list of 10 companies. Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg later said the list was of satisfied vendors who hadn’t gotten bonuses.
The Journal reached seven companies on the list. All said they had positive dealings with Trump companies but hadn’t gotten bonuses. The other three didn’t respond to requests for comment. Ms. Hicks then provided two other names. Both said they got bonuses. One, Lou Rinaldi, owns a Westchester, N.Y., pavement business and said he has worked on golf courses and other projects for about 15 years for Mr. Trump, who he says is a long-time golfing buddy. Mr. Trump has sometimes given him bonuses and handed cash to job-site workers, he said. “He would throw some money over the top,” Mr. Rinaldi said, and would say, “great job, here you go.”
Mr. Trump has written frequently about playing hardball. “You have to be very rough and very tough with most contractors or they’ll take the shirt right off your back,” he wrote in his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal.” In his 2004 book “Trump: Think Like a Billionaire,” he wrote to “always question invoices.”
Among Mr. Trump’s satisfied suppliers is Bart Halpern Inc., a Manhattan fabric company that sold upholstery, drapery and pillow material to Trump projects including the Las Vegas hotel. Bozena Dziewit, its director of hospitality sales, said it has always collected full payments promptly from Trump companies. “We always have a very good experience.”
Mr. Trump’s best-known payment dispute was in Atlantic City in the early 1990s, when Trump executives told contractors working on his Taj Mahal casino they should agree to accept less than full payment or risk becoming unsecured creditors in bankruptcy court. In 1991, the Taj filed for bankruptcy.
Mr. Trump said in a Journal interview last year that those who lost out in the Taj probably wouldn’t have had jobs or contracts in the first place if it weren’t for him.
Vendors with legal muscle have sometimes had better luck collecting, including several that sued Trump University, the now-defunct real-estate school. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas sued Trump University in Clark County, Nev., court in 2009 for allegedly failing to pay a $12,359.51 fee for a canceled event. The casino was paid and dropped the suit, an MGM spokesman said.
Mr. Trump said of Trump University’s bills: “Everybody has been paid in full. I didn’t have to do that either. I wouldn’t have to pay anybody if I wanted to be cute.”
Some small businesses, such as Classic Chandeliers in West Palm Beach, Fla., decided they couldn’t afford to fight. In 2004, Mr. Trump chose 5-foot-wide chandeliers with 75 bulbs from the store, said Judith Jacobson, who said she designed the fixture and worked there with her ex-husband, Nicolas Jacobson, the owner.
Mr. Trump’s representatives negotiated to buy three chandeliers for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for $34,000 total with a 50% down payment, according to court records. “The fact that he was Trump,” Ms. Jacobson said, “my ex-husband said ‘OK, we wouldn’t have any problems with someone who has the means.’ ”
Mr. Trump later sued Classic Chandeliers in Palm Beach County, Fla., court saying he shouldn’t have to pay in full because the company didn’t install the chandeliers properly. Mr. Jacobson, whose last name was spelled Jacobsen in the lawsuit, denied the claim.
Court records show the suit was dropped in 2006 after a planned mediation. Ms. Jacobson said Mr. Jacobson agreed not to be paid in full rather than accumulate legal fees. A review of Palm Beach County court records showed no other payment disputes involving Classic Chandeliers. The shop later closed. Mr. Jacobson died in 2015.
Mr. Trump said of Mr. Jacobson: “He was terrible, that guy…He didn’t do the job properly.”
A onetime competitor of Mr. Jacobson’s, owner Jack Shea of Reward Lighting said he had a “fabulous relationship” with Mr. Trump, to whom he said he sold chandeliers without payment problems. Mr. Shea occupies Mr. Jacobson’s former storefront and once bought some of his former business assets.
New York real-estate broker Barbara Corcoran, a frequent guest on the show “Shark Tank,” wrote in a 2003 book that Mr. Trump refused to pay her and associates a commission on a $100 million investment in a New York City real-estate project she helped secure in 1994. Of monthly payments he agreed to make over three years, she wrote, he paid two.
Mr. Trump sued in New York County to cancel remaining payments and recover alleged damages after Ms. Corcoran’s associates were quoted in a profile of him in New York magazine, court records show. The judge ruled against him.
Ms. Corcoran’s then-lawyer, Richard Seltzer, said: “He took advantage of the legal system to try to avoid debts.” Mr. Seltzer, former chairman of real-estate litigation at law firm Kaye Scholer LLP, said Mr. Trump’s approach to business agreements is common only among a small subset of privately-held New York development companies he has encountered but rare in the broader world of real estate and business.
Mr. Trump said he sued Ms. Corcoran because her firm violated a confidentiality agreement and “it wasn’t a big deal.”
Lawyer David Hopper, who worked for Trump Organization and other Trump companies, sued in Virginia federal court claiming that in 2011 they owed him $94,511.35 in legal fees. After invoices from Mr. Hopper went unfilled for more than 60 days, Trump representatives had told his firm the bills were “too high” and it should agree to cap its fees or reduce them by 70%, according to court filings. In response, Mr. Hopper withdrew from representing a Trump company in a federal case.
After a Trump lawyer called Mr. Hopper’s work “shoddy” in a local publication, Mr. Hopper filed his suit, alleging defamation and breach of contract. Trump lawyers responded that the business didn’t owe the money and denied defaming him. The parties settled, drafting a statement that the Trump Organization “appreciated” Mr. Hopper’s services. Mr. Hopper declined to comment.
Mr. Trump said: “We thought he was charging too much.”
Some vendors who did collect said Trump companies delayed payments beyond reason. Ted Sargetakis finally got paid 61 days late after many phone calls to collect a balance of more than $50,000 on fabric his Utah company, Silver State, sold to Mr. Trump’s Las Vegas hotel. “Typically for the larger customers, plus or minus a few days is not unusual,” he said, “but to be 30, 60, 70 days late, that’s out of the norm.”
Mr. Trump said he hadn’t heard of Silver State. “Is that a long time?” he asked of a 70-day delay, adding that “I pay thousands of bills on time.”
Mr. Walters’s drapes
In Las Vegas, Mr. Walters’s drapery dispute took a bizarre turn when the sheriff’s deputies presented a court order demanding he hand over fabric his company, Catalina Draperies, was using to make curtains, bedspreads and pillow covers for Trump International Hotel & Tower, being built on the Strip.
The original order in 2007 had been for $702,958, court records show. Trump Ruffin, managed by Mr. Trump, pressed Mr. Walters to hurry, repeatedly asking for extra work, Mr. Walters said in court testimony and other court records.
With the project mostly finished, the company paid Mr. Walters around $553,000 for a job he said had grown to $1.2 million with extra orders and with material he provided, according to court documents. In March 2008, Trump Ruffin rejected his invoices for the extras, Mr. Walters told the Journal this year. He stopped the work and kept the fabrics as collateral.
The company sued him to obtain the fabrics. Trump lawyers said in legal filings Mr. Walters didn’t have proper paperwork to prove he was owed much of the money and had agreed to provide the material.
Mr. Walters told the Journal he had complied with demands for extras, even without formal documentation, because he trusted the Trump company and hoped for more of its business.
Bill Langmade, CEO of Purchasing Management International, the agent that worked on behalf of Trump Ruffin on Mr. Walters’s billing, said the onus is on vendors to have proper paperwork.
Mr. Walters settled in 2008 for $185,000, court records show, collecting $823,000 in total before legal fees. In 2011, he closed the business, blaming the economic slump and Mr. Trump. “We had been fighting the economy,” he said. “We thought Trump was our salvation.”
Trump and private property: What’s yours is really his?
The Trump-Running Horse drama created strong passions
The Trump run for GOP presidential nomination is doing the same thing
Trump in Fresno showed a fondness for eminent domain
1 of 3
Donald Trump, with an unidentified member of his entourage, checks out the palm trees and trailer that comprised the Running Horse golf course development on May 25, 2007.Kurt Hegre Fresno Bee file photo
The Trump for Running Horse saga was dead from the get-go.
We just didn’t know it for months.
My guess: So, too, is the Trump for president saga.
This, too, will take time to sink in.
Any Fresnan who wonders how Donald Trump, running hard for the Republican presidential nomination, has come to dominate the news media these days need only look in the mirror for the answer.
Human beings simply are suckers for a charismatic showman. Fresno nearly a decade ago rediscovered this truth.
It was Friday, May 25, 2007. I was sitting at my desk in the sports department when sports editor Robert Zizzo dropped by.
“We just got a phone tip,” Zizzo said. “Donald Trump has flown into town. Check it out.”
Pretty soon I was standing outside the double-wide trailer that served as headquarters for the Running Horse residential/golf course project in west Fresno.
It’s sufficient here to note that Running Horse in mid-2007 had already confirmed itself as a disaster of uncommon dimensions. The dream of a Carmel-based developer to build a world-class golf course lined with half-million-dollar homes was in complete disarray.
In fact, the original developer had already given way to another owner. City Hall didn’t have any money in the mess. But it did have a political disaster on its hands.
After all, Running Horse had been pitched originally as the key to revitalizing long-struggling west Fresno. When Trump arrived on the scene, Running Horse was little more than a mile-and-a-half-long ditch that in places reached a depth of 25 feet or so.
A lot of local reporters were standing outside the Running Horse trailer with me on that spring 2007 afternoon. Trump (whose name on first reference in subsequent Bee stories would always be preceded by “billionaire developer”) and then-Mayor Alan Autry emerged from the trailer.
“We’re looking to try and save a very troubled situation,” Trump said. “We’re looking at whether or not we want to do it in the first place. It’s a very, very difficult thing.”
The original developer several years earlier had lined up a PGA Tour event for Running Horse, slated to tee off for the first time that fall. The tournament was doomed for 2007, but everyone hoped a miracle would save the Fresno-PGA marriage for 2008.
“We have a great relationship with the PGA Tour,” Trump said. If he fixed Running Horse, Trump said, “they will come.”
Autry, the former NFL quarterback and one-time Hollywood actor, wasn’t used to playing second fiddle in his own town. But Autry on this day knew who had the true star power.
“Donald Trump knows there’s a bigger picture at work here,” Autry said. “He doesn’t mind going into distressed areas and making a mark and bringing hope and opportunity.”
Of course, the Trump-for-Running Horse dream came to nothing. It finally fizzled out in late 2007. There were hard feelings over price, financing and land acquisition – the usual stuff of failed land deals.
Exhaustion had also set in. This was obvious to any reporter hanging around City Hall. Nor was there much enthusiasm in the public statements dribbling out of the Trump organization in New York City. High-octane fantasies have a short shelf life.
The 400-plus acres that once were Running Horse now are covered in young almond trees, thanks to the renewal powers of bankruptcy and the never-ending ambitions of the Assemi family.
The place is called Mission Ranch. The Donald isn’t the only guy who understands the art of the deal.
The Trump-Running Horse glory days, when a deal truly seemed possible, lasted a mere two months. The big questions: What would the new Running Horse owner charge Trump? What would Trump pay? What kind of help would City Hall provide?
Trump never personally returned to Fresno. Speaking through his lawyer, Michael Cohen, he was soon offering $30 million cash. Trump in late July sent his daughter Ivanka Trump and Cohen to Fresno to fish or cut bait.
“I’m here to say we will continue to pursue this project,” Ivanka Trump said at a news conference on July 27. She spoke as she rushed out of town, taking the Trump money with her.
A lot of Fresnans believed Trump was the answer to the Running Horse problem. They saw him as a savior come to do something special for the city. Trump by his mere presence amid the dust at Running Horse encouraged such a mass sentiment. After all, he could have simply picked up his New York City office phone and called Autry if all he cared about were numbers.
Trump in 2007 knew the value of display. He knows the value in 2015.
I recently made Public Records Act requests to City Hall and the city’s old Redevelopment Agency (now called the Successor Agency). My goal: review documents and emails tied to the Trump-Running Horse story.
I didn’t get much – about a dozen documents total. Many were dated from the days immediately after Trump left Fresno.
Nor was there anything of heft that hadn’t in some form been in The Bee when the paper’s business reporters were hot on the story.
Still, there was one document that I hadn’t seen before and made interesting reading eight years later.
Cohen on the morning of May 29, 2007, sent an email to Autry.
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with Mr. Trump to discuss the Fresno Running Horse project,” Cohen wrote. “As discussed, I am attaching a preliminary ‘wish list’ needed to make this venture a successful one.”
Cohen closed by saying he would contact Georgeanne White (chief of staff for Autry at the time and currently Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s chief of staff) that afternoon.
There were 13 “wishes.” For example, Trump wanted all crossroads removed from Running Horse. He wanted several holdout homeowners in the Running Horse footprint bought out at fair market value. He wanted secure water rights.
One of the wishes stated: “Buy out and re-zone entire area around course.”
Another stated: “Establish a one (1) mile perimeter around the property to be classified as a redevelopment zone.”
The Fresno Successor Agency has a map of west Fresno that shows the amount of land Trump was talking about. Running Horse with a one-mile perimeter would be bordered by Belmont Avenue on the north, Brawley Avenue on the west, Jensen Avenue on the south and Fruit Avenue on the east.
Trumpville would have been huge – about nine square miles.
And keep in mind that Trump arrived at Running Horse in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo v. City of New London decision (2005) that gave the green light to transferring, by eminent domain, property from one private owner to another private owner in the interests of overall economic development. Trump at Running Horse wanted more than 5,000 acres of historic west Fresno made subject to what is called in some circles as the “grasping hand” of an insatiable government.
No need here to go into the nuances of redevelopment law. Some of the land in question already was in a redevelopment zone. Much of the land was rural or in the county. Bottom line: It would have taken an act of the California Legislature to meet Trump’s demand for a redevelopment zone of that size in that part of metropolitan Fresno.
White replied to Cohen in the late afternoon of May 29 after she and city staff had discussed the wish list. White cut to the chase on the pivotal wish. When it came to buying all the land within one mile of Running Horse, White wrote, “I’m assuming you mean the Trump Organization would be the buyer. …”
The documents don’t say whether White’s assumption was correct or whether the RDA was expected to buy everything and sell it to Trump. And as far as Running Horse is concerned, it no longer matters.
But Donald Trump wants to be president of the United States. He’s generating among millions of Americans the kind of passion that he generated instantaneously among hundreds (if not thousands) of Fresnans in 2007.
What does presidential candidate Trump think about private property and eminent domain? Near as I can tell, Trump has yet to answer such a question.
I spoke on Wednesday morning with Hope Hicks, Trump’s press secretary. I said I want to pose this question to Trump in a phone interview. No word yet on that request.
One thing is certain. There was no reason for Trump in 2007 to want so much of west Fresno put into a redevelopment zone if his plan was to use his own money to buy all the privately owned properties at prices the owners set themselves.
But if Trump wanted to latch onto the power of government to force private-property owners to sell to him at prices deemed by a third party to be “fair market value,” then by all means “The Donald” would want to get cozy with City Hall and the Redevelopment Agency it ran.
The documents I got suggest Trump in 2007 was very fond of eminent domain.
I’m assuming Trump as president would run America exactly like he ran his Running Horse show.