Republican frontrunner Donald Trump kicked off his Super Tuesday by completely disposing of the David Duke Ku Klux Klan controversy for good and all. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday’s Good Morning America, Trump disavowed all support from white supremacists, and explained to Stephanopoulos that he’s actually a hero of racial equality because he built a club that isn’t whites-only:
There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have. You take a look at Palm Beach, Florida, I built the Mar-a-Lago Club, totally open to everybody, a club that frankly set a new standard in clubs, and a new standard in Palm Beach, and I’ve gotten great credit for it. That is totally open to everybody.
Trump purchased and renovated the Mar-a-Lago estate in 1985. In the 1990s, Trump sued Palm Beach over local ordinances, and cited his club’s non-discrimination as the reason for the town’s refusal to relax them:
The culture clash began to approach a climax last fall, when Mr. Trump’s lawyer sent members of the town council a copy of the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a film that deals with upper-class racism. Mr. Trump then approached the town council about lifting the restrictions that had been placed on the club. He also asked some council members not to vote on the request because their membership in other clubs created a conflict of interest.
Last December, after the council refused to lift the restrictions, Mr. Trump filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Palm Beach, alleging that the town was discriminating against Mar-a-Lago, in part because it is open to Jews and African-Americans. The suit seeks $100 million in damages.
The town denies the allegation and says it was merely deciding a zoning matter. (The Everglades Club denies that it discriminates in admissions; Palm Beach’s other clubs generally decline to comment on Mr. Trump’s allegations.)
According to the Wall Street Journal, that didn’t sit very well with the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, who met with Trump and seemed to reach an understanding:
Even the Anti-Defamation League in New York, which in a 1994 battle forced Palm Beach’s Sailfish Club to open up its membership, was concerned that Mr. Trump was using the charge of anti-Semitism for his own mercantile ends. The league’s national director, Abraham Foxman, met with Mr. Trump soon after to air his concerns. According to Mr. Foxman, Mr. Trump agreed to modify his claims to allege only that the town council has treated Mar-a-Lago unfairly, compared with other clubs in town.
Now, Mr. Foxman seems pleased that Mr. Trump has elevated the issue of discriminatory policies at social clubs. “He put the light on Palm Beach,” Mr. Foxman says. “Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Foxman says, the league has received calls from Jewish residents telling of how Palm Beach clubs are changing. Locals concur that in the past year, organizations such as the Bath and Tennis Club have begun to admit Jewish patrons. The Palm Beach Civic Association, which for many years was believed to engage in discriminatory behavior, this month named a Jewish resident as its chief officer.
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