COLUMBUS (AP) — As he campaigns for U.S. Senate in Ohio, Republican Mike Gibbons has never thought to draw attention to the tragic coincidence that forever links him to Donald Trump.
In 1989, Gibbons’ then-business partner, Kevin Brown, died in a power boat accident in Atlantic City hosted by Trump Castle Hotel & Casino, one of the many properties the billionaire-turned-president owned around the world.
Gibbons, 66, a Cleveland investment banker, is running for the coveted seat held by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
He seeks to position himself against Republican rival U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth, as the “conservative outsider” with a record of political and financial support for the president. The two jockey almost daily over who can most closely align himself with Trump, who won the political bellwether state handily in 2016.
Trump has spoken favorably about Renacci, but has stopped short of making a formal endorsement. Gibbons, meanwhile, landed the backing of Citizens for Trump, a coalition that helped elect the president.
Gibbons said the irony of his partner dying at a Trump resort hadn’t crossed his mind until he was asked about it by an Associated Press reporter.
“It was at the Trump race in Atlantic City. He was a professional power-boat racer,” Gibbons said. “He was, at that point, North American champion. He was going for the (American Power Boat Association) World Championship. Theoretically, he would have won the points in that race to be the world champion in that class of racing.”
But it wasn’t to be.
Kevin Brown, a 37-year-old wealthy entrepreneur from Rocky River, Ohio, near Cleveland, was killed instantly when his 32-foot catamaran speedboat flipped over and crashed.
“Kevin apparently took his eye off the road and hit a wave and it shot the boat high in the air,” Gibbons said. “It came down like a torpedo into the ocean and it tore the coaming off the boat, it was kind of like a windshield sort of thing. They were going 110 knots (126 mph).” He said Brown was decapitated.
That Brown’s race almost never happened adds to the tragedy.
The late October weather in Atlantic City had been uncooperative for days, foiling race events and frustrating boaters stuck waiting at the Trump resort.
“I feel like I’ve been fleeced by Donald Trump,” competitor Bob Hansen told the Press of Atlantic City the day before Brown died. “For three days, I’ve been in this place paying inflated drink prices and now, if we don’t race tomorrow, the little guys in the Sportsman Class won’t even have a championship.”
Trump had outbid Key West, Florida, by $10,000 for the chance to host the championship, relocating the event from its host city for the previous 18 years.
Stan Fitts, then-vice president of the boat association’s Offshore Racing Commission, dismissed criticism over the venue change as a choice between money and a climate appropriate for the event.
“The money was a consideration,” he said, but “what happened here with the weather could happen anywhere.”
With the weather conditions, Brown found his friends at the casino and sent them back to Cleveland.
“He said, ‘Everybody go home, we’re not going to race. There’s too much chop,’” Gibbons recalled. Back home, Gibbons got the call from a friend in tears and learned that his business partner of six weeks was dead.
“I was on my own with a desk and a phone,” he said. “That’s when you’re kind of standing at the edge of the chasm and looking at the blackness. And it was certainly bad for me, but this guy was a great guy and, unfortunately, wanted to take on danger.”
Gibbons has left Brown’s name on their business for nearly 30 years.
Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this story.