ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Hillary Clinton, hoping to make Donald Trump's business record a key presidential campaign issue, pummeled the real estate mogul who once describe bankruptcy as a winning strategy in a speech outside the shuttered Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
"When this casino collapsed because of how badly he managed it, hundreds lost their jobs, shareholders were wiped out," said Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. "But Donald Trump walked away with millions."
Now a vacant hulk on the boardwalk, its white facade and mirrored black windows collecting grime, the Trump Plaza opened in 1984 as Trump's first major project in Atlantic City. In 1995, the hotel and gaming complex was rolled into the publicly traded Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, which at one time owned four casinos in Atlantic City, as well as others in Indiana and California. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection three times, the company was delisted from the Nasdaq in 2009.
Saddled with junk bond debt, the company never posted a profit.
In 2014, during a fourth bankruptcy, Trump's main creditor Carl Icahn blocked a steeply discounted sale of the property and the casino shuttered, putting over 1,000 employees out of work. Icahn has endorsed Trump's candidacy.
Trump's Atlantic City empire came to an end earlier this year, when Icahn Enterprises(IEP) - Get Report took over Trump's final 10% stake in the Trump Taj Mahal, a massive 2,000-room hotel and casino just up the boardwalk from the former Trump Plaza, during bankruptcy proceedings.
In those proceedings, Icahn fought a successful legal battle to jettison pension and health care obligations to the Taj Mahal's largest employee union. In January, Icahn and Trump won an appeal that set a new legal precedent for employers in Chapter 11, giving them greater flexibility in severing pension and healthcare obligations to employee unions.
The Taj Mahal employees union, UNITE Here Local 54, has been on strike since last week, and showed up in force at Clinton's boardwalk speech wearing red T-shirts.
Clinton, speaking in the blazing midday sun with temperatures approaching 90, hit repeatedly on a theme that she'll likely deploy widely in coming months: that Trump has a track record of exploiting others for personal gain and walking away from obligations, and will do the same to the public at large if elected president.
Behind her podium, where the cameras in the press stand could catch them, was the faded outline where illuminated neon letters once sat that spelled out "TRUMP PLAZA."
"What he did here in Atlantic City is exactly what he'll do to the country if he wins in November," she said. Trump, she added, has repeatedly promised to bring his business acumen to bear on the country's problems. "We should believe him, and make sure he never has a chance to bankrupt America," she said.
Other Atlantic City casinos have also struggled in recent years, with notable bankruptcies including Caesars and Revel. But Trump's ventures have consistently underperformed in the city, an analysis by the New York Times has found.
"It is an effective and commonly used practice in business to use bankruptcy proceedings to restructure a business and ultimately save jobs," Trump said in a statement responding to Clinton's critique. "I created thousands of jobs and made a lot of money in Atlantic City," he added. "As president, I will make America rich again."
Charlie Baker, a 26-year veteran employee of the Taj Mahal, said in an interview after the event that the strike would continue "as long as necessary" until Icahn makes concessions on wages and benefits.
"Any time they want to call us," he said "we're more than willing to meet them."