12 THE GREENSBORO TIMES Against Trump > from page 10 Two former Trump employees, a husband and wife who rented proper-
ties, were quoted in court documents as saying they were told that the company wanted to rent only to “Jews and Executives” and “discouraged rental to blacks.” The couple told the government’s lawyers that they were advised that “a racial code was in effect, blacks being referred to as ‘No. 9.’ ”
Other rental agents employed by the Trumps told the FBI that only 1 per-
cent of tenants at the Trump-run Ocean Terrace Apartments were black, and that there were no black tenants at Lincoln Shore Apartments. Both were on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. However, minorities were steered to a different complex on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, Patio Gardens, which was 40 percent black, the government said.
One black woman, for example, was turned away at a heavily white com-
plex but told that she should “try to obtain an apartment at Patio Gardens,” where “a black judge had recently become a tenant,” according to government filings.
Phyllis Spiro, a white woman who went undercover in 1973 at a Trump
property, told investigators how a building superintendent acknowledged to her “that he followed a racially discriminatory rental policy at the direction of his superiors, and that there were only very few ‘colored’ tenants” at the complex, according to court records.
Spiro, now 86 and living in Brooklyn, said in an interview that she re-
members the case vividly. She said she and her fellow housing activists found “a constant pattern and practice of discrimination” at Trump buildings.
Working from offices in Washington and New York, Justice Department
lawyers decided to file a case: United States of America v. Fred C. Trump, Donald Trump and Trump Management, Inc.
Tear sheet from U.S. v Fred Trump complaint from October 1973.
employed in business and, more recently, in politics. And its resolution showed how Trump, even in the heat of battle, is often willing to strike a deal.
This account is based on a review of more than 1,000 pages of court re-
cords, including hearing transcripts and affidavits that have received little atten- tion in the decades since the case, as well as interviews with people involved in the case.
Aspects of the case were reported at the time, and other details, such as the racial coding allegations, gained notice in a 1979 Village Voice investigation and more recently in a Daily Beast story.
Trump declined to be interviewed. His attorney, Alan Garten, said via email that there was “absolutely no merit to the allegations.”
“This suit was brought as part of a nationwide inquiry against a number of
companies, and the matter was ultimately settled without any finding of liability and without any admission of wrongdoing whatsoever,” Garten said.
Targeting the Trumps
Donald Trump’s ascent in his family’s business, after his 1968 graduation from business school, came as allegations of race discrimination were mounting against landlords across New York City. Housing bias had become a major policy issue in Congress.
Many whites were relocating to the suburbs, and minorities often moved in to rent or buy properties. Concern about the issue peaked following race riots that broke out across the country after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Amid growing evidence that landlords were refusing to rent to minorities,
Congress acted one week after the King assassination by passing the Fair Hous- ing Act of 1968, which banned such discrimination.
The Trumps’ company had encountered allegations of discrimination be-
fore Donald Trump arrived. On at least seven occasions, people seeking apart- ments had filed complaints about alleged “discriminatory practices” with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
The company resolved the complaints individually by offering apartments
to each minority applicant, but critics in New York said the patterns of bias con- tinued.
As company president, Donald Trump took an interest in all levels of the business, according to his own accounts. He often helped his father with manage- ment chores, including collecting rent, sometimes from unruly tenants.
Civil rights groups in the city viewed the Trump company as just one exam- ple of a nationwide problem of housing discrimination. But targeting the Trumps provided a chance to have an impact, said Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was then chairwoman of the city’s human rights commission. “They were big names,” said Norton (D), now the District’s representative in Congress.
Organizations such as the Urban League began to send testers to Trump
properties. In the July 1972 test at Shorehaven Apartments in Brooklyn, the same su-
perintendent who had rejected the black woman told the white woman who came later that she could “immediately rent either one of two available apartments,” according to testimony.
The tests played out across Queens and Brooklyn and revealed a pattern,
the housing activists said in court filings. White testers were encouraged to rent at certain Trump buildings, while the black testers were discouraged, denied or steered to apartment complexes that had more racial minorities, according to the testimony.
After local activists realized the scope of their findings, they alerted the
Justice Department’s civil rights division, which was looking for housing cases to pursue.
A federal courtesy call On the morning of Oct. 15, 1973, a Justice Department official reached
Donald Trump on the telephone. It was a courtesy call, the official would later say in court papers. The Justice Department then issued a news release that said the Trumps violated the law “by refusing to rent and negotiate rentals with blacks, requiring different rental terms and conditions because of race, and misrepresent- ing that apartments were not available.”
At the time the suit was filed, Trump had been thinking about veering away
from his father’s focus on providing housing for lower- and middle-income res- idents of Brooklyn and Queens, and envisioning his future as a developer of luxury buildings for the rich in Manhattan.
But now the first thing most people were hearing about Trump was that he was being accused of discrimination.
In another housing case shortly before then, a New York developer had quickly settled with the government. But Trump wanted to fight.
“The idea of settling drove me crazy,” he wrote in “The Art of the Deal.” “What we didn’t do was rent to welfare cases, white or black,” Trump
wrote in his 1987 autobiography. “I’d rather fight than fold, because as soon as you fold once, you get the reputation of being a folder.”
Trump struck up a conversation with Cohn, the famous lawyer, whom he had met because both men were members of Le Club, an exclusive discotheque.
“I knew him by reputation and was aware of his image as a guy who wasn’t
afraid to fight,” Trump wrote in his book. Cohn, who died in 1986, advised Trump to tell the government to “go to
hell,” according to Trump’s book. Cohn counseled pursuit of a strategy that re- mains key to Trump’s playbook today: When attacked, hit back harder. On Dec. 12, 1973, Trump held a news conference at the New York Hilton to announce a counterclaim, saying the government knowingly made false and misleading statements. Cohn sought $100 million for the Trumps. Donald Trump claimed that the government was trying to force the company to lease apartments to peo- ple on welfare.
If that happened, Trump said, “there would be a massive fleeing from the
city of not only our tenants, but communities as a whole,” according to news ac- counts from the time.
Trump, in an affidavit, rejected any suggestion that his view was based on
race. “I have never, nor has anyone in our organization ever, to the best of my knowledge, discriminated or shown bias in renting our apartments,” he said.
Cohn filed his own affidavit lamenting what he suggested was an overzeal- ous government.
“No matter what the outcome of this case,” Cohn said, “I suppose the dam- age is never going to be completely undone because you are never going to catch up with these initial headlines.”
Going on the counterattack
Five weeks later, Cohn and the Trumps sat in a federal district courtroom in Brooklyn. Seated at the government’s table was a 26-year-old Justice Depart- ment lawyer, Elyse Goldweber, drenched from a downpour because she had been unable to find a cab.
At issue was whether the judge should let the Trumps’ countersuit con-
tinue, or, as the government wanted, for the judge to toss it out. Goldweber had a passion for her task. One of her clearest childhood memo-
ries was regularly taking a ferry in southern Virginia to visit her grandparents. Two signs greeted her as she came on board: “White” and “Colored.” Her first big case was against the Trumps.
Cohn spoke first, ridiculing the government for requesting racial break- downs of Trump buildings.
There are “a number of blacks who live in there, that we know visibly,” Against Trump > page 14
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