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Atlantic City and Miami Beach: two takes on tackling the rising waters

Sea level rise is making floods more common and as the New Jersey resort braces for the next Sandy, the well-heeled Florida city is throwing money at the problem

The Irish Pub near Atlantic Citys famed boardwalk doesnt have any locks on the doors as it is open 24 hours a day. So when Hurricane Sandy crunched into what was once known as the Las Vegas of the east coast in 2012, some improvisation was needed.

Regular drinkers helped slot a cork board through the frame of the door, wedging it shut and keeping out the surging seawater. The wild night, which severely damaged more than 320 homes and caused a week-long power blackout, was seen out by those taking shelter with the help of several bottles of Jameson.

But Sandy was just the headline act among increasingly common flooding events that are gnawing away at the thin island upon which the city sits.

Sandy, as devastating as it was, isnt the greatest barometer because we have flash floods, said Cathy Burke, who has run the Irish Pub since 1973. Burke, a gravelly voiced institution along the boardwalk, has hoarded treasures from Atlantic Citys zenith. The upstairs of the pub is replete with vintage furniture, gramophones and china dogs.

We can have floods at the drop of a hat, Burke said. Without even realizing were going to have them. Itll be raining and within seconds youll see flooding in the street. You dont read about it in the paper. You dont hear about it on the radio or television. You just have water that just comes up and if you dont have warning and move your car, you have water in the car.

These flooding events have increased seven-fold in Atlantic City since the 1950s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and are spurred by rainfall or simply a spring tide abetted by unhelpful gusts of wind.

The casinos and boardwalk are protected on the ocean side by a network of beach dunes. But the western side of the city, where few tourists venture and poverty lingers, is more vulnerable. Several times a month water swells in the bay behind Absecon Island the barrier strip dotted by the resorts of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport and with nowhere to go can slosh into the streets, wrecking cars and stranding residents.

The rising ocean, fed by melting glaciers and the expansion of warming water, is piling up water along Americas entire eastern seaboard. To compound the problem much of the mid-Atlantic coast is sinking, a hangover from the last ice age, meaning life and property is being swamped like never before.

atlantic city sea level

And yet with no overarching national sea level rise plan and patchy commitment from states, many coastal communities are left to deal with the encroaching seas themselves. Wealthier areas are raising streets and houses, erecting walls and pumps. Those without the funds or political will have several state or federal grants they can access but often make muddled choices in the face of this sisyphean task.

There is no central place that makes all the decisions, so you get one town building a pump station to push water out and another town pumping the water back to the same place, said Rouzbeh Nazari, an environmental engineering expert at Rowan University.

Nazari is critical of outdated flood maps, risky building in areas prone to flooding and what he considers an undue haste to buy up water-ravaged houses on the cheap to compensate homeowners rather than improve ragged coastal defenses.

It kind of feels like weve just given up, that we cant do anything about it, he said. Im less worried about a Sandy-like event than nuisance flooding. They are losing 20 cars a month to nuisance flooding on Absecon Island. We need a regional solution but New Jersey has no specific plan to deal with it.

A spokesman for New Jerseys department of environmental protection disputes claims that it lacks a plan, pointing to work with the army corps of engineers over future levees and a solution to inadequate stormwater systems that can exacerbate flooding.

We will be working very closely with coastal communities in identifying problem areas and the best ways to deal with them, the spokesman said. Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, has previously said there was no evidence that Hurricane Sandy was linked to climate change. Asked about flooding at Cape May last year, Christie said: I dont know what you want me to do, you want me to go down there with a mop?

Tom Quirk, a lifelong resident of Atlantic City, stands in a recently flooded area. Photograph: Laurence Mathieu-Leger for the Guardian

In Atlantic Citys heyday, its Steel Pier hosted concerts by Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, as well as a recurring attraction where a horse was required to dive off a 60ft platform into a pool of water a colossally stupid idea according to the then president of the US Humane Society. Today, it abuts the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino, which was sold by the president last year, as well as a tidal gauge that is quietly recording the fate of the city.

The numbers are stark the sea is rising at nearly 1.5 inches (38mm) a decade, streaking ahead of the global average and eroding away the tips of the island. Slender barrier islands such as Absecon arent easy to tame even with a stable sea level. Native Americans used to holiday, but never live, on the shifting sandy outcrop because they knew that it would be perennially mauled by the sea. Today, there are about 40,000 people living in Atlantic City, with the boardwalk drawing in millions of tourists to its hulking casinos.

The Native Americans were a lot smarter than the European settlers, said James Whalen, a former Atlantic City mayor turned state senator. The barrier islands up and down the coast really should not have been built on, but here we are.

And then there are the storms. Ben Horton, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, said that a Sandy-like storm used to occur on the east coast once every 500 years, before industrial activity began loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Now such a storm arrives once every 25 years or so. Should the sea level continue to rise sharply, by 2100 Sandy would visit Atlantic City every five years.

If you chat to people here and you say, How sustainable is the New Jersey shore or Atlantic City to an event of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy occurring every five years?, youll get a very negative response, Horton said.

The sustainability of Atlantic City consumes the thoughts of Elizabeth Terenik, the citys spry planning director. Terenik said the rise in nuisance flooding has become a major quality of life issue for back-bay residents. Many of those able to have raised their homes new buildings must now be a foot higher than previous codes due to the flooding.

Terenik is plotting new sea walls, a curb on new development in flood-prone areas and an underground canal that can funnel away stormwater. Perhaps most ambitiously, she is taken by an idea, put forward by Princeton University, that would raise the streets and houses in Chelsea Heights, a vulnerable neighborhood, and allow the water to seep into vacant land to create a sort of New Jersey twist on Venice.

Its an exciting project but one that really needs to be looked at closely before anythings moved forward and of course it would need funding, Terenik conceded. A lot of funding.

Miami Beach: climate gentrification

Funding isnt such a problem 1,200 miles south at another barrier island facing a daunting challenge from the seas Miami Beach. While it shares much of Atlantic Citys bygone glory, with its art deco grandeur and former celebrity playground status, Miami Beach linked by causeways to the mainland city of Miami has managed to retain much of the wealth that has allowed it to hurl money at the sea level rise problem.

Pancake flat and built on porous ground that is slowly sinking back to the seabed, Miami Beach is surrounded by seas accelerating at an astonishing 9mm a year vastly more than the 3mm-a-year global average. Should slabs of Antarctic ice start to crumble away into the ocean and fuel a 6ft sea level rise by 2100, Miami Beach will pretty much be swallowed up.

We are facing an existential threat here, said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Miami Beachs city commissioner. Gonzalez, a college professor, focused heavily on sea level rise when she was elected last year. Its not really much of a choice these days the mayor, Philip Levine, paddled down a flooded street in a canoe as part of an election stunt.

miami beach sea level

Once known as a sunny place for shady people due to its popularity with pre-war gangsters, Miami Beach is now often referred to as ground zero for the sea level rise phenomenon. But its perhaps more like a living laboratory experiment into what happens when you give a cashed-up place the task of avoiding drowning.

Miami Beach is spending $400m on a network of pumps, sea walls and raised streets in order to beat the tides. One vulnerable neighborhood, Sunset Harbor, has had its streets raised by 2ft at a cost of over $30m. All over the island, predominantly in the wealthier neighborhoods where properties go for $10m or more, streets are being torn up.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: Were literally going to have to rise above this. Photograph: Michael Landsberg for the Guardian

Were literally going to have to rise above this, Gonzalez said. Thats very scary for many of us because right now, we cant really picture what that looks like. It is so hard to imagine parts of Miami Beach disappearing. A lot of this island is fill. We filled it in once. Well fill it in again.

City engineers admit that they are merely buying themselves time, perhaps 20 years or so, until Miami Beach will need to work the problem out again, possibly with some new technology. The seas are relentless, and rising ever further without end in sight. Much of southern Florida will eventually be reclaimed, but for now there is trillions of dollars of real estate to save.

Retreat isnt on the agenda, but as in Atlantic City theres an equity issue at play. The affluent can afford to raise their homes, lobby for sea walls and water pumps, and stay in a nice hotel if it all gets a bit much.

Poorer residents are less able to do this, nor can they foot the bill for the work Miami Beach has eye-watering average water bills of $350 a month in order to pay for the street work. Some people may have to leave if the costs mount further. Even some of the wealthier residents are buying insurance properties in areas of the mainland, farther from the coast.

Valencia Gunder calls this phenomenon climate gentrification. Gunder is a nascent climate campaigner and resident of Liberty City, a Miami district known for its problems with crime and poverty. Gunder has been agitating, so far unsuccessfully, for some large trees to help shade the Liberty City populace from increasingly frequent heatwaves. She gives a wry smile at the mention of Miami Beachs extreme engineering.

Were noticing things like heatstrokes and people passing out because its so hot outside, people cant take the heat, she said.

I do understand that you want to take care of the community thats right on the shore, but we all are affected. Four hundred million dollars, yes, is needed for resiliency, but just to put it in one neighborhood I think is ridiculous.

Michel Rodriguez tries to jump to a shallow spot as he crosses a flooded street in Miami Beach in 2015. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We pay taxes. We live here. We go to school here. We work here. We deserve the same treatment as other communities.

Federal leadership for communities like Atlantic City and Miami Beach is unlikely to arrive before the situation escalates further. Donald Trumps administration has already taken aim at existing coastal resiliency funding and has disparaged basic scientific understanding of climate change.

Should the seas rise by 6ft, 13 million Americans in coastal areas will have to relocate by the end of this century, according to recent research. There will need to be a plan, beyond just cutting emissions, well before this time.

In the meantime, threatened cities such as New York and Boston will mull gargantuan sea barriers, Miami Beach will hoist itself further upwards, and Atlantic City will hope a solution, or a combination of solutions, is found before the next Sandy arrives.

What links these places is the reluctance to abandon them. Miami Beach is one of the most special places in the entire world and we dont plan on going anywhere, said Gonzalez. Were going to be here for the long haul. I love this city. Its my home. I cant imagine there not being a Miami Beach.

Back in Atlantic City, Cathy Burke, surrounded by her Boardwalk Empire-style refinements, is similarly defiant.

I am a diehard Atlantic City native, she said. I love Atlantic City. I dont want to live anywhere else.

Ive seen hotels demolished. Storms, whatever. And as far as Im concerned, Atlantic City will always be here and it will only get bigger and better than ever.

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Carl Icahn sells failed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City

The now-president Trump hailed the business as the eighth wonder of the world when it opened in 1990

Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, has reached a deal to sell the failed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.

The sale to Hard Rock International and two New Jersey investors comes four months after Icahn closed it amid a crippling strike. The price was not revealed.

We are excited to be part of this revitalization of Atlantic City creating thousands of jobs to help local employment, said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International. We are 100% convinced Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City will be a success.

He said the company planmed to invest $300m in renovating and rebranding the property.

Icahn, who also owns Atlantic Citys Tropicana Casino and Resort, said he decided one casino in town was enough. He said in January he had lost about $300m owning the Taj Mahal and would be delighted if he could sell it for half that amount.

We … are extremely happy with our ownership of the Tropicana Casino and Resort, and after considerable analysis and deliberation we determined that we only wanted to own one operating casino property in Atlantic City, he said on Wednesday night. A sale of the Taj Mahal therefore represents the optimal outcome for us. We wish Hard Rock and its partners the best of luck with the Taj Mahal.

Hard Rock has proposed building a major casino resort in northern New Jersey at the Meadowlands racetrack with its owner Jeff Gural. But voters overwhelmingly rejected a statewide referendum in November 2016 that would have authorized casino gambling to expand beyond Atlantic City. The issue cannot be revisited for at least two years.

Icahn said the sale does not include the shuttered Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, which closed in 2014. Icahn said he is still trying to sell that property.

Trump, who at the time was a Manhattan real estate mogul, dubbed the Taj Mahal the eighth wonder of the world when it opened in 1990. But within a year it was in bankruptcy, the victim of unsustainably high levels of debt taken on during its construction.

Trump cut most of his ties with Atlantic City in 2009, stepping down from the company he once ran, Trump Entertainment Resorts, most of which was then controlled by bondholders who swapped their debt for equity in the company during bankruptcy. Trump retained only a 10% stake in the company in return for the right to use his name, but that was wiped out last year when Icahn acquired the company from its latest Chapter 11 filing.

Local 54 of the Unite-Here union went on strike against the Taj Mahal on 1 July when it could not reach a new contract with Icahn to restore benefits that Trump Entertainment got a bankruptcy court judge to terminate in October 2014. Losing millions of dollars a month, Icahn decided to close the casino on 10 October, putting nearly 3,000 workers out of jobs.

Many of those workers are hoping to be rehired when the casino opens, which might not happen until the summer of 2018.

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$50m Trump-branded development relied on immigrant visa funds

Critics say Trump Bay Street, now leasing apartments at $3,100 a month in New Jersey, is a showcase for the misuse of a controversial immigrant visa program

The first residential Trump-branded development to open since Donald Trumps election victory last month opened for business in Jersey City, New Jersey, this week.

The gleaming Trump Bay Street complex, a luxury rental project completed under the direction of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and would-be White House adviser to the president-elect, sits across the Hudson river, minutes from Manhattans financial district by train or ferry.

The project was built by the Kushner familys Kushner Co operation, which boasts of completing more than $7bn in acquisitions under Jared Kushner, its CEO, since 2007.

The 50-storey building is not lacking in Trumpian grandiosity. Renters are promised a top-hat-wearing concierge and furnishings chosen by the personal decorator for Ivanka Trump, Kushners wife, in conjunction with the home furnishing superbrand Restoration Hardware.

But critics say Trump Bay Street, which uses the Trump name under licenceand is now leasing apartments starting at $3,100 a month, is also a showcase for something else: the misuse of an controversial immigrant visa program originally designed to promote economic investment to disadvantaged areas through the sale of visas that can ultimately be converted to citizenship.

Kushners development, with its chefs, dining tables and elaborate health and sports facilities, was completed with upward of $50m raised through EB-5 financing, according to a slide presentation by US Immigration Fund.

The EB-5 program is popular with Chinese nationals with $500,000 or more to invest in US development projects. In 2014, the most recent year for which records are available, the US issued 10,692 of these visas 85% to people from China, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

But Trump Bay could soon become a focal point not only of efforts to reform EB-5 but also of the incoming Trump administrations unresolved family business conflicts.

EB-5 is an extremely complicated, corruption-prone way to bring foreign investment into the US, says David North, a Fellow of the Center for Immigration Studies, and in this case it is part and parcel of the conflict of interest issues that are flying around the incoming administration.

North estimates that more than 60% of all EB-5 investment in the US comes into Manhattan and surrounding areas while the majority of applications originate in China.

In recent months, the EB-5 program has been the subject of bipartisan criticism in Washington, with opponents including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, vowing to end the system when it comes up for renewal in Congress this month.

On the Republican side, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has described the program as riddled with corruption and national security vulnerabilities.

In August, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office said it could not be sure that the money used for EB-5 was not coming from the drug trade, human trafficking or other criminal activities.

Critics of the system say not only is the $500,000 investment threshold too low but the funds the program raises frequently go toward luxury developments in New York or Miami and not, as originally stipulated, to disadvantaged areas as the scheme originally intended.

A New York University studyfound that EB-5 investment was largely financing luxury developments, including a Chinese-style casino in Las Vegas, a Waldorf Astoria hotel in Beverly Hills and the redevelopment of the Hudson rail yards in Manhattan.

Its hard for smaller states and cities to compete with the glitzy hotels and luxurious condo projects, Grassley argued at a congressional hearing.

But supporters, including the Democrats incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, claim EB-5 has pumped almost $9bn into the economy and created more than 35,000 jobs since it was created in 1990.

The future of the EB-5 program could now be coloured by Donald Trumps campaign promises to crack down on immigration.

In September, Congress passed a resolution keeping the program alive to 9 December. Legislators will now have to agree on a reform for the program or let it expire.

But some believe Trump will not simply back maintaining EB-5 but expanding it.

His strong stance is against illegal immigration, said the former New York governor George Pataki at a forum in Shanghai soon after Trumps election in November. And EB-5 is a legal immigration program. He understands the need for capital, the need for investment.

With Congress being lobbied to extend EB-5 indefinitely, one of the options open to the president-elect could be to back raising the investment bar and introducing reforms that ensure investment capital flows to disadvantaged areas at the expense of New York or other wealthy areas.

But North, for one, was not holding his breath for that.

The way the program works now is as an asset transfer program for rich Chinese investors to line the pockets of rich New York developers. The administration could make the program less useful to the rich of New York and more useful for the rest of us. Theyre unlikely to do that.

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Flint warnings as Atlantic City may be forced into state takeover of water

The near-bankruptcy of the financially ailing resort town was caused in part by the failures of casinos such as those previously owned by Donald Trump

Atlantic City may be forced by New Jersey into an unprecedented state takeover of its water as the result of a bailout, something experts have warned has worrying echoes of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and could result in price hikes.

The near-bankruptcy of the financially ailing resort town was caused in part by the failures of casinos such as those previously owned by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Casino closures over the past five years opened a cavern in Atlantic Citys budget, as property values plummeted and tax revenues plunged. However, Governor Chris Christie now also chair of Trumps White House transition team refused earlier this year to allow Atlantic City to formally go bankrupt to shed or restructure debt.

Instead, a harsh $73m bailout loan was signed by the city and state, which required Atlantic City to dissolve its independent water utility and hold the infrastructure as collateral for the bailout loan. Christie, a water privatization proponent, has said he would sell the citys assets if Atlantic City failed to meet its loan obligations, a promise that could result in a private company owning or leasing the citys infrastructure.

Separately, the Guardian can reveal that while two of Trumps Atlantic City casinos were under his control, the mogul failed to pay more than $146,000 in water bills between 2012 and 2014 until March this year.

Its highly unusual for the state to step in on a municipalitys finances at all, said Daniel J Van Abs, a Rutgers University professor and expert in water policy. The sort of deal that was established for Atlantic City is even more unusual, if you will. The notion that they should be required to privatize their utility I have not seen the state take that action previously.

Advocates of public water were blunt about the loans terms.

Its undemocratic and un-American, said Mary Grant, a water privatization expert at Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group that monitors corporate water takeover attempts.

The relationship to Flint is very compelling, Grant said. An emergency manager came in and made decisions about the water system against the wishes of the local elected officials, and that resulted in the Flint water crisis, because they put money before health and human lives.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian waves at a local walking the boardwalk as he passes the huge shuttered Revel casino. Photograph: Michael S Williamson/The Washington Post

Customers of private water companies routinely pay more for water, and under privatization the people of Atlantic City would lose democratic control of their water and rates, as the people of Flint did when an emergency manager made broad changes to the citys source water in 2014 that resulted in widespread lead contamination.

A change in source water is unlikely in Atlantic City, but residents would have little say in rates or improvements. Currently, a local board supervises Atlantic Citys water utility. If a private company took over, only the states public utility board, which has limited power, could intercede to mitigate hefty rate hikes.

In September, Atlantic City violated a key term of New Jerseys $73m loan by failing to dissolve its municipal utility authority, and this month it sailed past the most recent state-imposed deadlines. New Jerseys division of community affairs, which administers the loan, refused to comment.

While it remains unclear when and if the state might enforce the terms of the loan agreement, a 2014 law signed by Christie assured an easy transfer of Atlantic Citys water into private hands, and the governor has made his intentions clear.

I want it secured by every asset they have, so that if they dont pay it, I get to take the assets, sell them and pay you [the taxpayer] back, Christie said at a public appearance in August, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

They sent [the loan agreement] back all marked up, We want to change this, we want to change this, he said of Atlantic City lawmakers. Excuse me? Youre asking for $74m to stay alive, you should just say, Where do I sign? Thank you, sir.

Over the past few years, Christie has laid the groundwork for the lease or sale of New Jersey water utilities. The 2014 Water Infrastructure Protection Act eliminated the requirement for a public referendum when water infrastructure is sold or leased to a private company in emergent conditions. The law also eliminated the public utility boards review of rate hikes from water system purchases, an expert at the rate counsel of New Jersey said.

In other words, if Atlantic Citys water supply is purchased for $100m, a price repeatedly cited in public debate, corporate buyers could lawfully pass on that cost to ratepayers in increased water rates not just in Atlantic City, but anywhere across the state that the corporation owns water.

The bill suggests that costs get automatically passed to ratepayers, said Stefanie Brand, the director of the rate counsel of New Jersey, about the Water Infrastructure Protection Act, which passed into law. Though she said her organization would fight such an increase, she admitted it was unclear whether the rate counsel could triumph.

At least two of the largest private water companies in America have lobbied heavily in New Jersey: Suez North America, a French multinational corporation, and American Water.

Chris Christie has laid the groundwork for the lease or sale of New Jersey water utilities. Photograph: Mel Evans/AP

New Jersey American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, spent $708,750 from 2011 to 2015 lobbying New Jersey lawmakers on utility business issues, according to state lobbying disclosures. Exactly which lawmakers were lobbied is not disclosed.

The company is already Atlantic Citys largest bulk water customer, purchasing around $1.7m in water each year, according to a public bond filing. The same bond filing detailed Trumps delinquent water bills, which the Atlantic City tax collectors office said were finally collected in March.

New Jersey American Water also hired the lobbying firm of Philip Norcross, the brother of one of south Jerseys most well-known power brokers, insurance executive George Norcross III.

Many in New Jersey politics consider George Norcross III the most powerful unelected leader in the state. The New Yorker described him as the most influential Democratic political boss in New Jersey, and a man who could unify south Jersey voting blocs across the state assembly and senate from his base in Camden, where he chairs the board of Cooper University Hospital. Governors, including Christie, have courted his favor.

Norcross was also invited to a February meeting at Christies governors mansion, where county and state officials went around and around and around, talking about taking over parts of Atlantic City for hours, Atlantic County chairman Frank Formica told the Press of Atlantic City.

Between 2011 and 2015, American Water increasingly gave more business to Philip Norcrosss lobbying firm, Optimus Partners, increasing the amount it spent from $54,000 annually in 2011 to $126,000 last year.

In 2016, Christies Economic Development Authority approved a $164m tax break for American Water to move its headquarters from Voorhees, New Jersey, to Camden, a 25-minute drive within state borders. The tax break was championed by another Norcross brother, US congressman Donald Norcross.

And although Trump frequently paints himself as a political outsider, he also has ties to Norcross, first reported by WNYC. Norcross attended Trumps third wedding and toured Florida real estate where Norcross eventually bought a home, about two miles from Trumps Mar-a-Lago resort.

Some lawmakers claimed Trumps ties to Norcross stopped state regulators from questioning the viability of Trumps indebted casinos when they were up for relicensing in 2003 casinos that would later fail and help pitch Atlantic City into its current predicament.

Water corporations have found advocates in federal New Jersey lawmakers as well. Democratic senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker recently held a press conference in front of a Suez water treatment plant to promote a bill that would given corporate water investors tax breaks, citing Flint as justification for a law they said would improve Americas water infrastructure. Booker co-sponsored the bill last session; Menendez had previously introduced it in the Senate.

Although the city proposed a plan to keep the water utility under local control, by selling a downtown tract of land called Bader Field for $100m, it seems highly unlikely the state will accept the proposal, or that the utility could even find a loan to finance the deal. The utilitys credit rating was quickly downgraded after it became entangled in the citys financial woes.

The state of New Jerseys division of community affairs, which financed the $73m loan to Atlantic City, declined to comment.

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Hillary Clinton fires up Atlantic City, a hotbed of anger against Donald Trump

Clinton rallies crowds outside abandoned Trump Plaza on the boardwalk, where residents are still reeling from the citys devastated casino industry

The way Donald Trump tells it, his ventures in Atlantic City were wild successes. An outsider real estate developer from New York, he clawed his way to the top of this resort towns gambling industry and then, with remarkable prowess and foresight, left before it all came crumbling down.

Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, speaking in view of the most recent casualty of Trumps boardwalk empire, Trump Plaza, which closed in 2014, told it another way.

What Donald Trump did in Atlantic City is nothing to brag about its shameful and every voter in America needs to know about it, Clinton told the crowd gathered on the boardwalk in the sweltering summer heat.

Clinton pointed to the casino, where garish red curtains still dress the windows and black boards cover the spot where red block letters once spelled out the name Trump Plaza.

Donald Trump once predicted: It will be the biggest hit yet, Clinton said sardonically. Now its abandoned.

Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, which Trump opened in 1984, proved an obvious backdrop for Clinton to make her essential argument against the New York real estate developer: that he is singularly and above all else focused on improving himself and his business and that his next big venture, should the voters let it happen, is America.

Remember what he promised: Im going to do for the country what I did for my business, Clinton said, as the crowd responded with boos. Well, we should believe him and make sure he never has the chance to bankrupt America the way he bankrupted his businesses.

In a statement released while Clinton spoke, Trump boasted that he had built a tremendously successful business in Atlantic City and defended his strategies.

Out of the hundreds of businesses I have owned over the decades, and hundreds of deals and transactions, I have used the chapter laws of our country in four instances, much as many of our countrys elite business people do (but nobody cares about), Trump wrote. It is an effective and commonly used practice in business to use bankruptcy proceedings to restructure a business and ultimately save jobs. Nobody understands the economy like I do and no one, especially not Crooked Hillary Clinton, will do more for the economy than I will.

Striking workers protest in front of the Trump Taj Mahal after Hillary Clinton spoke nearby in Atlantic City. Photograph: Dominick Reuter/EPA

Elaine Shantz, who lives just a few miles from Atlantic City, said few residents here have fond associations with the Trump brand.

You can walk into any little barber shop, hairdresser, physical therapy office, the little shops around here, youll get a sense of the real tenor for how people feel about Donald Trump, Shantz said before Clinton took the stage. Somebody was affected, wasnt paid or knew somebody that wasnt paid when he filed his bankruptcy. He came out OK and the little guy never got paid.

Shantz, who is supporting Clinton, said she used to work for a bankruptcy attorney who represented people who she said had not been paid or had been laid off by Trump.

It was awful, just horrible what these people went through, she said. I saw it first hand.

Also in the crowd was Janet Knudson, of Neptune, New Jersey. Knudson lives in a house divided: she supports Clinton while her husband supports Trump.

My husband is totally fed up, she said. Were middle income, living paycheck-to-paycheck and were getting near retirement and were not seeing any recourse except to keep working so that we can afford healthcare.

Knudson is skeptical of Trumps braggadocio and has doubts that he can deliver on all that he has promised. Standing in the shadow of Trump Plaza, she gestures at the boarded up casino as if to make her point. So thats why Im for Hillary.

Mayra Gonzalez has worked for Trump Taj Mahal casino since it opened by Trump in April 1990 and is at a loss to explain why Americans want to see her former boss in the Oval Office. (Trump has had no involvement with the company since 2009 and the casino is now owned by investor Carl Icahn.)

Its a mystery to me. Im baffled. Why? Gonzalez said. If he runs the country like he runs his businesses, people are in for a big surprise and not in a good way.

UNITE HERE Local 54 (@UHLocal54) July 6, 2016

.@HillaryClinton stopped by the picket at Trump Taj Mahal, & workers on strike chanted #NoContractNoPeace #uniteAC

Gonzalez, a garde manger chef, is among the roughly 1,000 of the resorts cooks, housekeepers and servers on strike who walked off the job on Friday, demanding higher wages and a reinstatement of certain health and pension benefits that were cut during the 2014 bankruptcy proceedings. Their union, Unite Here Local 54, has been marching continuously in front of the Taj Mahal since then.

We gave up so much back then when the city was in trouble, she said. We sacrificed a lot and now its time to get some of that back.

Dozens of workers and union members, wearing matching red shirts, attended Clintons speech. After she finished, Clinton reappeared outside the Taj at the eastern end of the boardwalk to greet the protesters whom she said in her speech we should all support.

Trumps boardwalk empire

Supporters of Hillary Clinton arrive before Clinton speaks near the closed Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Photograph: Dominick Reuter/EPA

On 16 September 2014, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino closed its doors, another devastating blow to the seaside citys devastated casino industry. Now a hollowed out casino with cloudy windows, a faint etching of the letters TRUMP is the only remnant of its former prestige.

Not far away is the Golden Nugget, which opened in 1987 as Trump Castle and was later renamed Trump Marina Hotel Casino. The casino was sold at a major loss in 2011.

The last remnant of Trumps casino triumvirate is the Taj Mahal, a taffy-colored homage to Indias world wonder that the developer once hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. Though Trump has not been involved with the casino for several years, it still bears his name. After going through a bankruptcy in 2014, Taj was bought by billionaire Icahn, a supporter of the developers presidential bid.

Yes, thats the Trump building, a father said to his young son as they passed the Taj Mahal on Tuesday night. He could be our president. Daddy hopes not.

For years, Atlantic City has been fought decline and decay. When Trump Plaza closed, it was the fourth casino to do so that year. The city, once a premier destination for gambling in the north-eastern corridor, has been forced into competition with other states in the region that have added casinos as a way of keeping gamblers and their money at home. Trump likes to say that he had the good sense sense to see the writing on the wall and exited the city with impeccable timing.

On Twitter on Wednesday he boasted: I made a lot of money in Atlantic City and left 7 years ago. Great timing (as all know). Yet Clinton cited multiple investigations that found his businesses were failing well before the city began to slip.

On the campaign trail, Trump often boasts of his business acumen and peppers his speech with promises to make America wealthy again as he has done his businesses. But multiple media investigations into Trumps ventures in Atlantic City have found that beneath the veneer of success is a tangle of bankruptcies, bad-faith dealings, layoffs and lost profits.

A USA Today investigation found that payments to at least 253 subcontractors involved with Trumps Taj Mahal casino were not paid in full or on time.

Among them was Marty Rosenberg, formerly a vice-president at Atlantic Plate Glass, a New Jersey company that was contracted by Trump Taj Mahal to install floor-to-ceiling curtain walls of glass. Introducing Clinton in Atlantic City, Rosenberg recounted his painful experience of fighting to be paid by Trump.

Supporters shout as Hillary Clinton speaks on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Photograph: Mel Evans/AP

In the end, the glass company, which Trump would owe more than $1m, was never paid in full for the work they did, Rosenberg said, explaining why he would never support the real estate developer for president.

The only thing that her opponent brings to the table is self-aggrandization, a bigoted agenda, a questionable net worth, a failed university and some self-branded steaks, Rosenberg said.

Like Rosenberg, Beth Rossers Pennsylvania-based family business was hired to install the toilet partitions at the Taj. Through decades have passed and the company eventually regained its footing, she still has a visceral reaction to his name.

Rosser, who now co-owns Triad Building Specialities, said she was with her son shopping for formal attire for him to wear to a school dance. When they got to the register he placed a tie on the counter. She noticed the brand.

I shouted: Put that back! And he looked at me like I was crazy. Its just a $20 tie. But its the principle of it, Rosser said. I wont buy anything with his name on it.

Rosser said she was alarmed that Trump had been successful at targeting people like her father, Forest Jenkins, whom she described as a blue-collar worker from working-class part of the state.

Those people that worked on the Trump tower were hard working, small business people, he had no regard for them, said Rosser, who intends to vote for Clinton in November. How could he say hell lift them up given what hes done to people like them in the past.

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Donald Trump Hearts Chris Christie, Buys Himself a Share of Bridgegate

It turns out that Jerseys dirty business doesnt stay in Jersey.”>

What a tangled web we weave when our high-level staffers engage in a criminal conspiracy to exact political retribution on an unassuming elected official and his constituents and then we make it out of the scandal alive only to sully what remains of our reputation by enlisting as the butt-boy for a neo-fascist presidential candidate.

Thats how the old saying goes, anyway.It might need updating now that a significant development in the Bridgegate saga threatens to pull Chris Christie back injust when he thought he was outand drag in Donald Trump, too.

From the vantage point of the tail-end of the Republican primary, Bridgegate looks like ancient history.But in New Jersey, its still very much an ongoing story.

One that Trump dipped into Monday when he announced Christie would serve as the chairman of his transition team (something not usually announced until the fall, just before the general election, but why start abiding by the customs of American democracy now?)

Christie, of course, endorsed Trump in February, after dropping out of the Republican primary following a humiliating performance in New Hampshire.

The two are longtime friends, but politics had seemed to get in their way.

Trump suggested, in December, Christie totally knew about Bridgegate (which would make him guilty of a crime) and Christie spent much of the last few weeks of his campaign cautioning his crowds against supporting Trump.

Bravado, by itself, is not a plan, hed said a few days before he ended his campaign. Hes just not the right person to be president of the United States and not the person wed want representing our country. He then went on to do a long and involved impression of Trump and his plan to build a big, beautiful wall.

They put all of that behind them when Christie decided to stand behind Trump. But the drip, drip of Bridgegate is incessantthe trial is set to begin in September, and Christie may testifymaking it hard not to wonder if Trump is setting himself up to regret their reconciliation.

On Tuesday, Trump told the Associated Press that Christie had not been ruled out of the running to be his vice president. Trump has, he said, a list of five or six people hes consideringhe wants a politician, someone who the media have already vetted, not a businessmanand he implied Christie is on it.

Also Tuesday, a federal judge in New Jersey was deciding to release the names of the unindicted Bridgegate co-conspiratorsthe people who knew about the plot to close the access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, but werent charged. The decision came after 13 media outlets requested the information be unsealed.

Although privacy for third parties is indeed important, U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton wrote in her statement, this court is satisfied that the privacy interests of uncharged third parties as insufficiently compelling to outweigh the publics right of access.

Judge Wigenton specifically said individuals thus far identified as being involved in the lane closings have been public employees and/or elected and appointed officials.

Wonder who that could include.

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This being a story about Trump and the governor of New Jersey, there is, it should come as no surprise, a complicated twist involving prison.

As part of her decision, Judge Wigenton cited a 2005 case called U.S. v. Kushner, but I like to think of it as Christie v. Donald Trumps Son-In-Laws-Dad.

Christie, at the time, was the (Bush-appointed) United States Attorney. He charged Charles Kushner, a real estate developer and big-time Democratic donor, with tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegally contributing to campaigns.

Charles Kushner is the father of Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, Donald Trumps favorite daughter.

In that case, the judge had decided the public has a strong interest in the use officials make of their positions of public interest.

Christie locked Kushner up for two years.

And as if thats not all strange and confusing enough, theres another wrinkle to consider.

In 2006, Jared Kushner purchased the New York Observer, which owns Politicker NJ, a New Jersey politics website founded (as by David Wildstein, the architect of Bridgegate.

This is the business, and family, that Trump has chosen.

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