This post was originally published as part of The Trump Files—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on November 6, 2016.
Donald Trump has often boasted of his commitment to hiring women and people of color. “I have many executives that are women,” he said on ABC’s This Week in August. Two months earlier, he had made a bolder claim, assuring the Associated Press that he had hired many Black senior executives and saying, “I am the least discriminatory person in the world.”
But as reports during this campaign have shown, Trump has exaggerated his commitment to diverse hiring. In fact, while constructing the Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach in the late 1990s, Trump got in trouble for failing to hire firms owned by people of color for the project—after he’d promised to do so as part of a lawsuit settlement.
Here’s what happened: In 1995, Trump sued Palm Beach County over aircraft noise. Mar-a-Lago, his lavish Palm Beach estate, was situated just south of the flight path out of Palm Beach International Airport, and Trump had been complaining about the noise ever since he bought the property a decade earlier. In 1996, the case settled, and the county agreed to build a structure that would keep airplanes from getting close to Mar-a-Lago. In exchange, Trump promised to lease land from the county, for a hefty and rising fee, on which he was going to build the Trump International Golf Club. As part of the settlement, he also pledged to make “reasonable efforts” to give 30 percent of the contracting work during construction to diversely owned businesses, with 10 percent of the work going to Black-owned firms and 20 percent to other nonwhite- and women-owned businesses.
Construction on the $40 million golf course began in 1998. Six months in, county commission chair Maude Ford Lee got a tip that Trump might be not be keeping his end of the deal. Lee had become the county’s first Black commissioner in 1990, following a report that showed the county had a long history of excluding diversely owned businesses. She wrote Trump a sharp letter warning him to come into compliance.
“I am extremely disappointed with the lack of participation by minority and black vendors in this effort thus far,” Lee wrote. “I am requesting an immediate plan of action from you to help [to] rectify this grave disparity.”
Lee wrote the letter after an airport official had informed her that neither of the two general contractors on the golf course project had provided reports of hiring any nonwhite or women subcontractors. An aide to Lee told the Sun Sentinel that Lee’s office knew of many businesses that were qualified to work on the project, but that it hadn’t heard from Trump.
“He’s violating the deal he made with Palm Beach County,” Lee told the New York Post.
As he often does in the middle of controversy, Trump denied the allegations. “Whatever charges were made, they are totally false,” his spokesperson Rhona Graff told the Sun Sentinel. “We have great numbers of hired and to-be-hired minority workers on that project.”