Now that New York Mayor Bill De Blasio is tearing the Trump name off of two ice skating rinks, a carousel, and a golf course, it’s time for Governor Andrew Cuomo to rid the Empire State of a monument to Trump’s chicanery: the “Donald J. Trump State Park” in Mahopac, about an hour north of New York City.
Donald J. Trump State Park is, appropriately enough, not a park. If you try to visit it—I have—you’ll only find a parking lot and some utterly unremarkable woodland with a few paths (no signs or markers) that hikers have worn down over the years. There are also the remains of a few abandoned structures, but don’t go inside—they’re full of asbestos.
What you will find, however, are massive signs on both sides of the Taconic State Parkway blaring about “Donald J. Trump State Park.” That’s right—there’s no Trump park, only signs advertising the Trump park. The perfect metaphor for Trump himself.
How did this all come to pass? Why, a con, of course.
In 1998 and 2000, the Trump Organization bought 436 acres of land (in three pieces) for about $2.75 million, hoping to build a golf course. Why was the price so low? Because the land is wet, hilly, rocky, marshy, and protected by environmental laws related to a nearby reservoir. It also had a bunch of well-heeled neighbors in Upper Westchester County who knew how to stop development they didn’t want in their backyards. Which they did.
So Trump, being Trump, lied. Having failed to sell off the property in 2005, he managed to get it reappraised at a value of $26.1 million—no one quite knows how—and, in 2006, donated it to New York State, taking a huge tax write-off. Sure enough, according to a Bloomberg investigation, Trump Entertainment Resorts “lost” $22.1 million in Q4 of that year.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is said to be investigating the scam, and in particular how that mysterious reappraisal took place, which may constitute tax fraud.
Moreover, the entire donation scheme was approved by New York’s parks commissioner at the time, Bernadette Castro, a close friend of Trump’s. It was a tax dodge dressed up as a PR move, complete with a big dedication party—featuring, not making this up, Trump-branded water—and the governor at the time, George Pataki.
In the announcement of the donation, Trump said, “I have always loved the City and State of New York and this is my way of trying to give something back. I hope that these 436 acres of property will turn into one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the world.”
Castro went further. “Donald Trump's incredible gift will have a lasting impact on our parklands, opening up public access to additional outdoor recreation and helping preserve the rich array of natural resources found in the Hudson Valley,” she said.
This charade has gone on long enough. Whether those gigantic highway signs honor tax fraud or not, they definitely honor a twice-impeached demagogue who incited rioters to storm the U.S. Capitol. They should come down immediately.
Last year, New York state Senator Brad Hoylman introduced two bills: one to rename the park after Heather Heyer, the woman killed by a white supremacist during the 2017 Charlottesville protests; the other would let local residents rename it.
But the bills stalled, because Trump’s 2006 “donation” came with strings attached: namely, that each park “will bear a name that will include Mr. Trump’s name, in acknowledgement of these gifts.” The name must be “prominently displayed at least at each entrance to the property.”
Fortunately, I have some suggestions.
First, most contracts are voided when one party engages in criminal activity, which is how Mayor de Blasio defended his cancellation of the Trump Organization’s contracts with New York City. Contracts are also generally void if one party fraudulently misrepresented any material terms, which is surely the case here.
So New York should declare their agreement void. And if Trump were to sue, that would probably entail discovery of more of his financial records, and, most likely, some smoking guns establishing the fraud.
At the very least, the terms of the donation letter don’t require those huge signs on the parkway, and since there are no directional signs telling people how to get to the “park” anyway, the signs at the entrances might as well be invisible.
Or how about this: maybe the signs should stay. After all, just a few miles from Donald J. Trump State Park, there are plaques marking the spot where the traitor Benedict Arnold made his escape from the Continental Army. So maybe New York should commemorate one traitor right next to another.