Voters in Gary, Indiana Know from Experience: Don’t Trust Trump

by Sokolove Law

Donald Trump has made a litany of big promises to voters. To name a few: he’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” and force Nabisco to once again make Oreos in the U.S. Oh, he also vowed to cut the federal budget 20 percent simply by “renegotiating.”

All of these promises seem to be convincing voters to vote Trump. As the Republican presidential race heads into an absolutely crucial primary vote in Indiana on Tuesday, Trump is poised to clinch the nomination. After sweeping all 5 primaries last week, Trump sits at 1,001 delegates, a position well within striking distance of the 1,237 mark needed to secure the GOP nomination. He’s 81 percent of the way there – and, after Indiana, there are still 9 more states to go.

However, while many Americans are eating up the Donald’s promises, citizens of an impoverished rustbelt city are thinking twice about trusting the real estate mogul turned reality-TV celebrity turned presidential candidate.

It’s 1993: A Real Estate Mogul Heads to the Hoosier State

Gary, Indiana is a dramatic example of how bad things can get for a small, middle-America rustbelt city. In the early 1900s, Gary had a booming steel industry, and the city’s population increased significantly. Over the past 50 years, though, Gary’s population has decreased 55 percent, from 178,320 residents in 1960 to just 80,293 in 2010. During this time period, violence skyrocketed while businesses shut down and more and more people left. In the 90s, Gary became known as “Murder Capital of the U.S.

In 1993, residents of Gary became hopeful over a new plan to save their city. Donald Trump, a brash tycoon from New York, proposed plans to open a large casino in Gary. The project, Trump promised, would turn around Gary’s declining economy and put the city on the map as a premier resort destination.

Trump sold the idea with all of the bombast and hype that have become characteristic of his presidential campaign. He pointed to the Taj Mahal, his casino in Atlantic City, as an example of his capabilities. “As I said, the Taj Mahal is so far No. 1 in Atlantic City that No. 2 is not even recognizable,” Trump said. He hinted that he could even get Michael Jackson to come to Gary, pledged to add 1,200 jobs to the local economy, and vowed to demolish and rebuild the city’s decrepit Sheraton Hotel building.

The abandoned and crumbling structure was an eyesore that sat, embarrassingly, right across from City Hall. It had also been discovered that the building contained asbestos, and, as such, its demolition – if taking all of the precautions to keep asbestos from going airborne – would be incredibly costly. When Trump learned that the city didn’t have enough funds to redevelop the site or entice developers, he became excited. According to then-state Senator Earline Rogers (D-IN), Trump promised: “Well, [renovating the sight] is the first thing I will do if I get one of these licenses.” Trump’s promises worked, and he was granted the license to build his casino.

Source: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)

Source: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)

Broken City, Broken Promises

In 2014, the disintegrating Sheraton building finally came crashing down. For over 3 decades, it had stood as a glaring example of Gary’s decay and ruin. In the end, the $2 Million demolition cost (so expensive because of the asbestos) was covered by the federal government.

So, what happened to Mr. Trump’s big promises?

The problem with the project was that it was managed by Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts and the successive Trump Entertainment. During its 13-year lifespan with Donald himself serving as chairman – from 1995 to 2009 – the company lost $1.1 Billion, declared bankruptcy twice, and wrote down or restructured $1.8 Billion in debt. During this period stockholders lost an astounding 89 percent of their investments.

In 2004, Trump hotels suffered a staggering net loss of $124.5 Million. In November, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As part of the debt management, Trump sold the Gary casino to rival casino owner Don Barden. Though he drove the company into astonishing debt, Trump still managed to walk away with an estimated $82 Million from his failed casino venture.

Though trump’s casino in Gary did create jobs and revenue for the local community, Trump left the city without fulfilling many of the grandiose promises he had made. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he did nothing to take down or renovate the asbestos-filled Sheraton building.

You Can Forgive, but You Can’t Forget

With 57 delegates at stake, Tuesday’s primary in Indiana is crucial for the Trump campaign. And because Indiana is a winner-take-all state, a win there would be enormous, leaving Trump with under 200 delegates left for the definitive nomination. According to an NBC News poll, Trump is up 15 points on Cruz in the potentially decisive vote.

In the days and weeks leading up to the primary, Trump has been campaigning tirelessly throughout Indiana. However, he has avoided Gary. Given the lingering bitterness in the steel town’s citizens, this is understandable. Perhaps the Donald’s reluctance to visit this decaying city to which he had once promised so much is an uncharacteristic sign of shame in an otherwise shameless man.

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