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This Woman Stopped A Donald Trump Project — But Wants Him To Be President

Former Miss USA Tara Conner at a photo shoot for the proposed Trump on the Ocean project at Jones Beach State Park, N.Y., in 2006.
Andrew H. Walker
Getty Images
Former Miss USA Tara Conner at a photo shoot for the proposed Trump on the Ocean project at Jones Beach State Park, N.Y., in 2006.

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.

Copyright 2016 WSHU

Corrected: April 11, 2016 at 10:00 PM MDT
A previous version of this post credited activists with killing the project. In fact, it was derailed when new concerns were raised after Superstorm Sandy.
Charles Lane
Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.