Donald Trump hopes to win big in next week's New York Republican presidential primary. Although Trump is fond of saying how he never loses, the billionaire suffered a defeat in his backyard when he sought to build a huge restaurant and banquet hall on Jones Beach, a public beach 40 miles east of New York City on Long Island.
The architect of Trump's defeat was Pat Friedman.
"Jones Beach is our historical park. It's not Donald Trump's park," said Friedman, 80.
The project, called Trump on the Ocean, was pitched in 2006 as a luxurious, gold-hued, 1,500-seat venue emblazoned with Trump's name. Initially budgeted at $40 million, it was scaled back to $24 million as controversy about the project mounted.
The website of a group in favor of Trump on the Ocean described Trump's plans as "a chance to provide Long Island a symbol it can be proud of."
"They were going to cut off the boardwalk," said Friedman. "We have millions of people walking the boardwalk; at that location they would have to go down in the sand to go around it."
Trump negotiated a lease with the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation department to build the facility.
For Friedman and other local activists who wanted to voice their opposition, the first step was finding out where to even fight. The public hearing to approve Trump on the Ocean was held hundreds of miles away from Jones Beach.
"It was a fix, you could see. It was a rubber-stamp, there wasn't going to be anyone there to oppose it. They made a mistake — I was there to oppose it," said Friedman.
She moved quickly to rally opponents.
"I was on my fax machine all night long," she said.
Friedman got the public hearings moved back to the beach, and hundreds of people turned out to object.
The state began scrutinizing the Trump project and withheld building permits because of flooding concerns.
"It's not a big deal for me, but it's a deal that will produce 1,000 construction jobs and at least 500 jobs permanent, all the time," Trump said at a rally to try to push the project forward.
Trump was flanked by supporters he bused in for the rally. Friedman spoke to some of them and says they were paid to appear.
"They got paid — 40 to 45 people were on that bus; they got checks. They were paid to come and say that they were in support of it," said Friedman.
Friedman found herself shoulder to shoulder with Trump after the 2011 rally. At the time, Trump was very publicly contemplating a presidential bid.
"He gave me the warmest smile. Wasn't angry, wasn't upset. He says, 'But thank you for supporting me for the presidency.' And I said, 'Dammit to hell, if you would run I would support you.' And I am," said Friedman.
Litigation regarding the project soon followed. The state and Trump reached an agreement, but the plug was pulled when new concerns were raised after Superstorm Sandy, as Newsday reported.
When asked why she would support Trump for president even as she fought tooth and nail against his plans for Jones Beach, Friedman cited immigration.
"We need to do something about taking our country back. For one, I don't think we should be dialing 1 for English. This is an English-speaking country," said Friedman, who described the Trump on the Ocean project as "just business."
But a Trump presidency, Friedman said, would be his public service back to the country. In fact, Friedman plans to travel to campaign for Trump once the New York primary is over.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Donald Trump is counting on winning big in New York's primary next week. The billionaire is fond of saying he never loses. But it happens. Charles Lane of member station WSHU has the story of one of those losses to a tough New Yorker who wasn't afraid to use her fax machine.
CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: Meet Pat Friedman.
PAT FRIEDMAN: Donald Trump, I beat you once, and I'm going to beat you again.
LANE: She's 80 years old, boney, 100 pounds with white hair and soft, blue eyes. When Trump wanted to build a wedding hall at a public beach on Long Island, Friedman said no.
FRIEDMAN: And they were going to cut off the boardwalk so the people that were walking the boardwalk, which we have millions of people walking the boardwalk, at that location would have to go down and walk in the sand to go around it.
LANE: This was back in 2006 at Jones Beach 40 miles east of New York City. The project was called Trump On The Ocean. It was huge - 33,000 square feet, all gold and glass and emblazoned with Trump's name. It was supposed to be big enough to fit 1,500 partygoers.
FRIEDMAN: Jones Beach is our historical park. It's not Donald Trump's park.
LANE: But the first step in defeating the plan was finding it. For unknown reasons, the public hearing was held hundreds of miles away from the proposed location.
FRIEDMAN: It was a fix. You could see. There was a (unintelligible) stamp, rubber stamp. It was - nobody was going to be there to oppose it. They made a mistake. I was there to oppose it (laughter).
LANE: And then Trump's people switched building plans at the last minute. That's when Friedman got fed up and began organizing. She got the public hearings moved back to the beach, and hundreds of people turned out to object.
FRIEDMAN: I was on my fax machine all night long.
LANE: The state began scrutinizing Trump On The Ocean and withheld building permits because of flooding concerns. Five years dragged on. In March 2011, Trump held a rally at Jones Beach n order to push the project forward.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: So we sued the state. We won the case. Instead of coming to us and saying, let's negotiate; let's get this thing built, you know what the state did? They appealed. And that's where we are right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, God.
LANE: He had supporters bust in to cheer him on.
FRIEDMAN: They got paid. Forty, 45 people were on that bus. They got checks (laughter). They were paid to come and show that they were in support of it.
LANE: Friedman and her opponent showed up at the rally too, chanting and yelling. And when it was all over, she found herself walking back to the parking lot beside Donald Trump, who was then contemplating a presidential bid.
FRIEDMAN: He gave me the warmest smile - wasn't angry, wasn't upset - tapped me on the shoulder with a warm tap. He says, but thank you for supporting me for the presidency. And I said, well, damn it to hell, if you would run, I would support you. And I am.
LANE: And why would you support him?
FRIEDMAN: Why am I supporting him - because I think that we need him. We need to do something about taking our country back. For one, I don't think we should be dialing one for English. This is an English-speaking country.
LANE: Friedman, who'd battled Trump's commercialization of a public space for six years - she says that was just business. But a Trump presidency, she says, would be his public service back to the country. In fact, Friedman plans to campaign for Trump once the New York primary is over. For NPR News, I'm Charles Lane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.