ATLANTIC CITY — Hillary Clinton wanted Missouri and Pacific, in front of the blank white tower of the now shuttered Trump Plaza, where you can still make out the impressions left by the letters T-R-U-M-P.
But in a town where casinos still hold sway, despite four of them closing in 2014, that idea was nixed because it would have cut off traffic and business into neighboring Caesars.
Instead, Clinton settled Wednesday for the Boardwalk, wedged into a street end on the Boardwalk at the edge of the former Plaza, her podium set up so that another Trump remnant, a rubbed-out Trump Plaza on the side of the former EVO restaurant, was visible behind her.
"This city has its share of big names on big buildings," she said turning to look at the rubbed-out marquee, before a cheering crowd of several hundred people. She was introduced by Marty Rosenberg, owner of Atlantic Plate Glass, who spoke of losing $500,000 when Trump did not pay his family business for services at the Trump Taj Mahal. "Hillary! Hillary!" Rosenberg shouted. He said he and other businesses owners suffered financially and emotionally from their dealings with Trump.
Clinton picked up on that theme almost immediately.
"What he did for his workers and businesses is nothing to brag about," Clinton said. "He got rich and got out, and he thinks that's something to be proud of."
Taking a page out of the playbook of Bernie Sanders, who railed against Donald Trump at Boardwalk Hall in May, she assailed both Trump and billionaire Carl Icahn, who she referred to as his potential Treasury secretary, and the owner of the Trump Taj Mahal.
"It's the same scam over and over again," Clinton said.
"We're standing in front of the old Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel. Donald Trump once predicted, 'It will be the biggest hit yet.' Now it's abandoned. You can just make out the word TRUMP where it used to be written in flashy lights."
She got heckled once after saying, "Of course he'd be for protecting a system where the rich and powerful stick it to everybody else. He got rich playing by those rules — " and someone interrupted — "So did you!"
Clinton said Trump's "presence remains," citing his sale of the Trump Marina at "a huge loss." (Trump Marina is now a very successful Golden Nugget, owned by Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta. And the Trump Taj Mahal, where, Clinton said, "Things got so bad, the new management canceled workers' health insurance and pensions."
"Now ask yourself: according to the Donald, isn't he supposed to be some kind of amazing businessman? So it's fair to ask since he is applying for a job, what in the world happened here?" she said. "He calls himself the King of Debt and he earned that title right here in A.C. His bad decisions hurt the whole city."
She also took aim at Gov. Christie, who is in Italy apparently attending a Bruce Springsteen concert: "You've got a city council and a mayor working hand-in-hand," she said. "And if your governor would start doing his job instead of following Donald Trump around holding his coat, maybe we could really get New Jersey's economy moving again."
Clinton also took a trip down Pacific Avenue to briefly greet noisy striking Trump Taj Mahal workers, whose union, Unite HERE Local 54, actually endorsed Sanders during the primary. A big picture of Sanders in the union headquarters window, however, had been taken down. She got out, ignored some national press shouting about her e-mail servers, and shook hands with the strikers. Then she got back in her motorcade, which went down the entrance to the Trump Taj Mahal, but made a u turn near the porte cochere and went on to the airport.
Clinton also brought up widow Vera Coking, whose house Trump tried to take in eminent domain, the sale at a loss of Trump Marina, and the bankruptcy of Trump Taj Mahal. She blamed the closure of Trump Plaza on the legacy of Trump bad management, though Trump had long divested himself of his share of the company. He sued to remove even his name from the Plaza before it closed.
She hit Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee but "Mr. Trump" to many in this town who worked for him, for his now familiar history of "multiple bankruptcies, stiffed contractors and hundreds of jobs lost," as the campaign summarized his record in Atlantic City. "But Donald Trump came out on top." (See video below released by Clinton campaign arguing that Atlantic City proves Trump should not be trusted with the nation's business: "Who got hurt when Donald Trump abandoned Atlantic City?")
In her speech, Clinton cited "painters, waiters, plumbers - people who needed the money they earned and didn't get it, not because Donald Trump couldn't pay, but because he wouldn't pay.
"It's not ancient history," she said. "If he's elected president, it's our future and the future of hardworking people across America."
Trump himself fired off a series of tweets related to Clinton's appearance on his former turf:
Hillary Clinton should ask why the Democrat pols in Atlantic City made all the wrong moves - Convention Center, Airport - and destroyed City
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2016
He also tweeted his familiar refrain about his time in A.C.:
I made a lot of money in Atlantic City and left 7 years ago, great timing (as all know). Pols made big mistakes, now many bankruptcies.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2016
If her goal was to distract the narrative from the FBI investigation into her e-mail server, Donald Trump took the bait. After tweeting about it, his campaign also released a statement that read: "I have used the chapter laws of our country in four instances, much as many of our country's elite business people do (but nobody cares about). It is an effective and commonly used practice in business to use bankruptcy proceedings to restructure a business and ultimately save jobs. Nobody understands the economy like I do and no one, especially not Crooked Hillary Clinton, will do more for the economy than I will. ... I created thousands of jobs and made a lot of money in Atlantic City, which was what, as a businessman, I am supposed to do for my company and my family - and as President I will make America rich and again, and Make America Great Again."
Clinton also launched a petition in support of 1,000 striking workers at the Trump Taj Mahal, while acknowledging that property is owned not by Trump anymore, but his "potential Secretary of Treasury Carl Icahn." The workers are members of UniteHERE Local 54 casino workers union, cooks, housekeepers and porters, which endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.
At this Hillary Clinton rally, she was speaking to people who actually met Trump, some of whom said they liked working for him, but would not be voting for him. "When I worked for Trump, he was a great guy," said Sandy Nourgas of Egg Harbor Township, who was a baccarat dealer at the Taj Mahal for 25 years. Her sister, Hillary Cianci, a cocktail waitress at the Taj, is on strike and was part of a group of strikers who were gathered at the rally. "What's coming out of his mouth now is despicable."
At the Taj, striking cook David Nunez stood out on Pacific Avenue. "The people that built these elephants never got paid," he said. He said he appreciated Clinton's support of the strikers, though he also said he did not mind Trump when he worked for him. "It's awesome," he said, as strikers shouted at people not to cross their line and enter the property. "She's putting us on the map a little bit."
Of Trump, he said, "He was OK as a boss. Everyone was happy then."
Maryanne Preztumik, 59, said she gave up a beach day in Bradley Beach to support Clinton. "I'm a huge supporter of Hillary, since 2008," she said. "I'm thrilled because she's in New Jersey, and its absolutely correct to be in Atlantic City because it highlights the problem: Donald Trump is not a leader. Donald Trump is a brand."
She pointed to the rubbed out Trump Plaza and said, "This is an example of the failed brand. "
On Texas Avenue, a hardscrabble beach block that was one of the entrances to the event, Khalina Robinson, 38, said "I love Hillary," and would vote for her, but "not till I find out what's up with those emails."
Clinton was to speak at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday on the Boardwalk, entrance to the area will open at 10:45 .m. through nearby streets, Texas Ave. to the South, Columbia Place (the former home of Vera Coking, whose home Trump unsuccessfully tied to acquire through eminent domain), to the North.
Her campaign said she will "make the case that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president based on the wake of destruction his business dealings have left in the seaside town and for businesses and families across the country."
There was talk of Clinton appearing at the Trump Taj Mahal in support of the strikers, but the appearance is scheduled for near the former Plaza. Many workers at the Taj and other Trump casinos remember their time with Trump as their boss relatively fondly, especially in comparison with the hedge funds that took over after Trump got out, and with Icahn, who cut health benefits, pensions, and paid breaks during bankruptcy proceedings to gain control of the Taj Mahal.
The company offered the union a health care plan in negotiations prior to the strike, but the offer was rejected as inadequate. The strike is in its sixth day.
Boardwalk Hall is also the place Lyndon Johnson accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, to run against Barry Goldwater. Then, as now, attention drifted to the state of Atlantic City itself; then, as now, that condition could have been better.