Remembering When Robert Trump’s $5,000 Check Boosted Chelsea Neighborhood Association In Atlantic City

When I returned home from law school in 1975, Atlantic City was down and out.  I and four others formed a group in the neighborhood to try to turn things around called the Chelsea Neighborhood Association.  In many ways, it was the forerunner of LibertyAndProsperity.com

At that time, other neighborhood and civic groups had been formed in other neighborhoods to demand more police, more street cleaning and paving, and more services there.  Others were formed to get city or county jobs for their “community organizers”.   Our Chelsea Neighborhood Association was different.  We didn’t want political jobs or favors for our members, or preferential treatment for our neighborhood.  We wanted good government, low taxes, and fair and equal treatment for everyone in in the City.  In many ways, this group was the forerunner of LibertyAndProsperity.com

In 1976, politicians and voters amended the New Jersey State Constitution to allow casinos in Atlantic City.  Two years later, Resorts International, a company tied to two of New Jersey’s biggest power brokers opened Atlantic City’s first casino hotel at the old Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel.   That was no coincidence.  The new state law regulating casinos required every casino to be part of a hotel having 500 rooms. The Chalfonte-Haddon Hall owned by Resorts Casino was the only hotel in Atlantic City having 500 rooms.  The two political power brokers who pushed through the legislation allowing casinos in Atlantic City were paid in Resorts International Stock which then was worth less than a dollar a share.

When Resorts International opened Atlantic City’s first casino in 1978 it had a monopoly.  It was the only casino in Atlantic City, and probably the only casino east of Nevada. It instantly became the most profitable casino in the world.  Resorts International owners and executives, and those two New Jersey political power brokers and other consultants who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Resorts International stock worth less than a dollar per share, now saw each share selling for hundreds of dollars!   They all had an interest in keeping Resorts International monopoly going as long as they good.

Dozens of other developers came to Atlantic City to build their own 500 room hotel so they too could open casinos.  However, it was difficult to find old hotels and assemble enough land in the casino zone to do that.

Robert Trump to the left of his brother Donald in 1990 at NJ Casino Control Commission hearing on their applications for permits to open Taj Mahal Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.  Nine years earlier, they sat before Atlantic City city commissioners seeking air rights over Pacific Avenue for a pedestrian bridge needed to build their first casino, Harrah’s Trump Plaza at Mississippi Avenue and the Boardwalk. Photo by Associated Press published in USA Today.

A new partnership of composed of Harrah’s, Holiday Inn, and the Trump family bought the old Holiday Inn on the Boardwalk in 1980.  However, the beach block of Mississippi Avenue was not big enough for a 500 room casino hotel unless a pedestrian bridge could be built over Pacific Avenue to a new parking garage on the next block.   At that time, there were no bridges over Pacific Avenue.   Developers who bought the old Ambassador Hotel (Now the Tropicana) on the other side of Convention Hall had the same problem.

For months, efforts by Robert and Donald Trump to get air rights from the City to build a pedestrian across Pacific Avenue seemed stalled.  A number of political leaders and other groups voiced all sorts of ridiculous objections.  Were these “invitations” to give “access” that are very common in NJ’s “pay-to-play” political culture?  Were they coming from folks who benefited by keeping the Resorts International monopoly going as long as possible?  I don’t know.

Harrah’s Trump Plaza at Mississippi.  Photo by Leif Skoogfers, Credit Getty Images.

However, as soon as our Chelsea Neighborhood Association heard about the proposal, we all thought it would be great for the town. Our members publicly supported it.  We questioned why officials were dragging their feet.  Soon afterwards, the City gave Robert and Donald Trump the air rights and other permits they were looking for.  Construction quickly began and the new Harrah’s At Trump Plaza Casino Hotel opened in 1982.  We will never know if our support for the pedestrian bridge had anything to do with granting these approvals.  None of us ever talked to anyone from the Trump organization.

However, months later, our Treasurer, Herman Zatt, started working at the project as an electrician. When we had our yearly $25 spaghetti fundraising dinner, Zatt asked Robert Trump to buy a few tickets.  Robert said he would talk to his brother. A few days later, Robert said they could not attend, but gave Herman Zatt an envelope, saying they wanted to make a donation. There was a $5,000 check in that envelope! The Chelsea Neighborhood Association used that seed money to be a powerful force in keeping taxes down and equally enforcing all laws to benefit all residents and businesses in Atlantic City for the next 15 years.

Robert Trump died last night in New York.  He was 72.

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