That Time Trump Was “a Loser”

On Wednesday the Washington Post ran a story about Donald Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to force a widow to give up her home so  he could expand the parking lot at his Atlantic City casino:

Trump is dominating his Republican opponents in the polls. But in the long melodrama that is Trump’s business career … all the billionaire’s money and all the billionaire’s men couldn’t keep a 5-foot-3 widow from whupping him.

Trump wanted [Vera] Coking’s house — not to live in, but as a place to park limousines for his casino next door. But Coking wouldn’t let him have it. No way. No how. Never.

“It is a classic case of a schoolyard bully…,” said Clint Bolick, who … defended Coking in a 1990s lawsuit with Trump…. “He’s a thug.” …

 Coking and her husband bought the white, three-story house at 127 Columbia Pl. in 1961, long before the area was transformed by mega-casinos. She raised her children there. For a time, she operated it as a boarding house….

In the early 1980s, Coking tangled with Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine. Guccione wanted to build a casino, and Coking’s house was in the way. He offered a million bucks, she said. She snubbed him. She wouldn’t budge. …

Enter Trump.

The billionaire developer … set about planning to expand his own casino empire.

Like Guccione, he tried to rid himself of Coking and her house.

“He’d come over to the house, probably thinking, ‘If I butter her up now, I’ll get her house for a good price,’?” Coking told the New York Daily News in 1998. “Once, he gave me Neil Diamond tickets. I didn’t even know who Neil Diamond was.” …

Coking held firm, even as the 22-story Trump Plaza soared outside her windows with its ever-flashing lights. The house was deteriorating, but Coking’s will wasn’t. Demolition crews had set fire to her roof, broken windows and smashed up much of the third floor, according to her attorneys. Still, she didn’t move. …

In May 1994, Coking got a letter from the city’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority offering her $250,000 — a quarter of what Guccione had offered a decade before — and threatening to use eminent domain powers to take control of the property if she didn’t take the deal….

Coking [was] a woman who favored huge sunglasses and bright clothes. Her nemesis, the brash developer, was unfiltered, pugnacious and supremely confident.

In her interview with the Daily News, Coking called Trump “a maggot, a cockroach and a crumb.” …

Trump responded by suggesting that Coking was making a play for sympathy in the media in hopes of getting him to pay more for her land.

“Did she put on her old clothing for you?” Trump said to one reporter. …

[Coking’s attorney] Bolick saw the case as a key moment in the battle over eminent domain and property rights. It was a struggle over precious liberties but lacked an obvious embodiment of the stakes.

“What was needed was a villain so heinous that a court would rule against him,” Bolick likes to tell audiences. “Out of central casting came Donald Trump.”

It used to be a reliable laugh line.

“Now I suspect a lot of people wouldn’t find that funny,” Bolick said.

Trump, Coking and the casino authority pounded away at one another in court. Then, one day in the summer of 1998, the Superior Court of New Jersey put an end to the conflict. The court ruled that the casino authority and Trump were wrong. The government couldn’t take Coking’s house and let Trump have it.

The widow had won.

She lived there for about another decade, happy to boast about her triumph over a man she despised. From across a parking lot, she saw Trump’s casino fizzle. Last year, Trump Plaza closed its doors, another in a long line of casualties in the precipitous decay of a once-sizzling casino strip. 

Jon Guze / Director of Legal Studies

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over twent...

Reader Comments