Will Sanders talk Trump, city troubles at Atlantic City rally?
ATLANTIC CITY — When Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders hosts a rally at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Monday morning, the backdrop will be appropriate.
First, the venue sits next to the shuttered Trump Plaza, one of a handful of casinos once owned by the man Sanders hopes to face for the White House in November: presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Second, his speech comes at a time when Atlantic City, like Sanders, stares at an uphill battle. Economically crippled by the decline of its casino industry, the seaside gambling resort is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy as leaders of the New Jersey Legislature remain deadlocked on a rescue plan.
One — or both — of those topics could be talking points as Sanders holds his second rally in two days in New Jersey. The U.S. senator from Vermont, the first 2016 candidate to host Garden State campaign events, spoke at Rutgers University in New Brunswick on Sunday.
The question is: Will any of it help?
Sanders is mathematically eliminated from gathering enough pledged delegates to win the Democratic nomination over front-runner Hillary Clinton. He has an outside shot of winning over enough superdelegates to steal the nod.
New Jersey's primary is June 7, and the state has become a battleground of sorts this week. In addition to Sanders' visit, Clinton is scheduled to hold a rally in Blackwood in Camden County on Wednesday.
If Sanders were to overcome long odds and beat Clinton, he would likely face Trump, the billionaire businessman who owned up to four casinos in Atlantic City from 1984 to 2009. He left the city shortly after his casino company filed for bankruptcy for a fourth time.
"Atlantic City once represented the emblematic success of the Trump brand, and today the city symbolizes the demise of his casino empire," said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. "It's fitting that Sanders calls attention to this aspect of Trump's career that may be unknown to many of Trump's supporters throughout the country."
Down the boardwalk is also the Trump Taj Mahal, which is no longer owned but by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who's been at odds with his workers.
A bankruptcy judge in 2014 allow Icahn to strip away health and pension benefits from workers amid the casino's struggles. The city's main casino union, Local 54, is appealing the decision.
Some say the setting is fitting for Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who often rails against corporations and speaks out against poverty.
"Sanders has taken on the role of defender of the underdog," David L. Carr, a political science professor at Stockton University in nearby Galloway, told Bloomberg News this week. "If there is a city besides Flint, Mich., in the U.S. that is an underdog right now, it has to be Atlantic City."
Still, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said because it's a long shot Sanders will be the Democratic nominee, "it's hard to say why he is bringing his message to Atlantic City."
Murray argues that it may end up benefitting Clinton.
"It's likely that Donald Trump's casino dealings will feature prominently in her negative attacks — they were already the butt of a joke by President Obama at last week's White House Correspondents Dinner," Murray said. "Perhaps Sanders wants to show how he can be a good surrogate."
Brent Johnson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.
Bernie Sanders Criticizes Atlantic City’s Casino Industry
The Democratic presidential candidate brings campaign to New Jersey ahead of June primary
Updated May 9, 2016
ATLANTIC CITY—Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his message of economic revolution to the Atlantic City boardwalk Monday, drawing supporters to the struggling resort in southern New Jersey.
The Democratic presidential candidate, who is hoping to win as many delegates as possible in New Jersey’s June 7 primary election, criticized the “greed and recklessness” of casino owners who he said have attacked local workers’ pension and health-care benefits. Mr. Sanders didn’t address the political fight in Trenton that has left Atlantic City on the brink of bankruptcy.
Atlantic City, which held a 30-year monopoly on East Coast casinos, now competes with gaming parlors in neighboring states and has lost $2.8 billion in gambling revenue since 2006. Thousands of casino workers have lost their jobs in recent years, and, as of March, the city had a nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 10.3%.
“When we talk about the decline of the American middle class and the increase in poverty, what we are talking about is workers right here,” Mr. Sanders said. “Billionaires like Carl Icahn…come in here and attack the standard of living of dishwashers and maids.”
Mr. Icahn owns two of Atlantic City’s largest casinos, Trump Taj Mahal and the Tropicana. He acquired Trump Taj Mahal, named for its former owner Donald Trump, after the casino entered bankruptcy court.
Mr. Icahn said in a statement that both casinos would have closed if he hadn’t invested millions of dollars in them, saving and creating thousands of jobs.
Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, was loudly booed at the Atlantic City rally, held at Boardwalk Hall a little over a mile from his former casino.
“Oh, you know Donald Trump?” Mr. Sanders said in response to the crowd’s jeers. “You don’t think he’s a brilliant, successful businessman who can bring the kind of prosperity to America that he has brought here to Atlantic City, is that your point?”
Mr. Trump said through a spokeswoman that he had “great success” in Atlantic City before the market collapsed under competition from surrounding states.
Rally attendee Kerrie Scull said she has managed to hold on to her job as a makeup artist for Scores, a gentlemen’s club at Trump Taj Mahal, but her hours have been significantly reduced. The club, which used to operate daily, is now only open on the weekends, she said.