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A Look At Trump's Connection To Bridgeport

Former President Donald Trump
Darron Cummings

In the summer of 1994, businessman Donald Trump, joined then-Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim to announce with fanfare Trump Park City Plaza.

It was to be among other things an amusement park, retail and residential space and a shipping terminal on the harbor front in the South End of Bridgeport. But the project never materialized.

WSHU Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma spoke with Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser about Donald Trump’s short-lived Bridgeport venture.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

TOM: Ebong, I remember at that time there was talk about having a casino in Bridgeport. Did this venture have something to do with a casino?

EBONG: It did. At that time the Connecticut Legislature was debating an expansion of gaming in Connecticut beyond the state’s compact with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. They were looking for a way to revitalize the economy of Bridgeport – a city that had been on the brink of bankruptcy just a couple of years before.

Several Las Vegas casino operators including the famous developer Steve Wynn showed interested. So did Trump, who at the time operated casinos in Atlantic City.

TOM: But did Trump ever actually include a casino in his plans?

EBONG: No. He said it would be strictly an amusement facility.

I spoke with Lennie Grimaldi. He managed four election campaigns for Mayor Ganim, and at that time he was also working as a public relations consultant for Trump.

Grimaldi later pled guilty to federal corruption charges for conspiring with another mayoral aide and Ganim to collect kickbacks from developers. He then testified against Ganim resulting in the mayor being sent to federal prison for seven years.

Here’s what Grimaldi told me about his dealings with Trump.

Grimaldi: “I represented Trump for four years. During that time I was his spokesperson, his eyes and ears, providing intelligence about the gaming potential expansion in the state of Connecticut. specifically with Bridgeport as the host site.

Trump buys a piece of property at the edge of the South End in downtown Bridgeport. It was a five-acre parcel that once hosted a major manufacturer in the city, Jenkins Valve. He buys that piece of property as insurance. His attitude was very simple with me.

When he hired me he said listen ‘I’d rather not have gaming expansion in the state of Connecticut. But if it’s going to happen I want it. If it’s not going to happen I want to kill it.’

Because he feared that if he did not control it, it would cannibalize his Atlantic City operation. So primarily he wanted to kill it. He didn’t want to see expansion for gaming in Connecticut. But if it was going to happen he wanted to be the one to control it.

TOM: Hmm. But eventually the expansion of gaming did not pass in the Connecticut legislature. So what became of Trump’s project?

EBONG: Well, Trump did nothing with the property in Bridgeport. In the meantime, he owed $300,000 a year in property tax to the city. Here’s Grimaldi’s explanation of what happened.

Grimaldi: He was interested in doing something, but he wasn’t going to kill himself to make it happen. So he decided I’m not paying it anymore. I said ‘What do you mean you’re not paying it?’ He said ‘I’m not paying it. It’s ridiculous, the assessment on it, and I’m not paying it.’ So as his representative I went to Mayor Joe Ganim and said Trump’s decided he’s not going to pay the taxes on it.

Ganim had already decided that would be a good location for a ball park in Bridgeport. So Bridgeport had been talking to minor league officials from the Atlantic League [of Professional Baseball Players] to start a new league with a new team in Bridgeport, Connecticut. And they felt that was going to be a really good location for a minor league baseball facility.

So Trump sells the parcel to the city.

So Trump and Ganim have a conversation. Ganim says ‘Listen, you are not going to pay the taxes’…’No, I’m not going to pay the taxes’…’Tell you what, why don’t you deed the property over to the city and I’ll forgive the taxes.’

And that in a nutshell is what happened. So Trump stops paying the taxes. Ganim calls him up says ‘I want that location for a minor league baseball stadium. You sign the deed over to the city.’

TOM: And that’s how we got the ball park and the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.

EBONG: That’s how it happened. Trump sold the land to the city for $1 and the forgiveness of all back taxes. The deal was investigated by the FBI as part of its probe into corruption in the Ganim administration, but Trump was never accused of any wrongdoing.

And, Tom, there’s an interesting footnote to this.

TOM: What’s that?

EBONG: It was at a rally at the Arena at Harbor Yard, which is on land that was once owned by Donald Trump, that President Barack Obama made his closing argument in the 2010 midterm election. That was the election that produced Democrats Dannel Malloy as governor, Richard Blumenthal as U.S. senator.  As you may recall, Malloy’s win was decided several days after the election following a recount in Bridgeport. So it appears that rally might have been crucial to their winning.

And Joe Ganim, having served his time in prison, is once again mayor of Bridgeport.

TOM: Very interesting. Thank you, Ebong.

EBONG: Thank you, Tom.

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.