Archive | Donald Trump

Sydney Schanberg chronicles the brash, outrageous and often phony offers made by Donald Trump in New York City throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Trump for Mayor

btkf - Donald Trump, in the mid 1980s, in front of a building - Town & Country via AtticmagBy Sydney H. Schanberg

First published as an Op-Ed column in The New York Times on June 4, 1983

It was only a small item in the paper. About a year ago. And then a small follow-up item last Sunday. They were so unremarkable in size that you probably missed them both. But they contained stunning news.

What these few paragraphs said was that Donald Trump — master builder, real estate impresario, accused by many of caring only about glitter and money — had offered to house some of this city’s downtrodden homeless in a building he owns on posh Central Park South where he has 14 empty apartments.

The city government reacted suspiciously to his offer. These misguided officials believed — heaven forfend — that Young Trump’s purpose was Machiavellian. Endowed with distrustful natures, they thought he wanted to install the down-and-outers at 100 Central Park South (across from the St. Moritz Hotel, full views of Central Park) for the sole purpose of driving out the rest of the tenants so he could demolish the building and put up another Trump pyramid.

Donald Trump acknowledges that he does indeed want to get the present tenants out in order to put up a new luxury building, but he insists that’s not why he’s offering shelter for the homeless.

”Some people think I’m just doing a number on the people in the building,” Mr. Trump told me. ”That’s not true. I just want to help with the homeless problem. It’ll take two or three years to get everybody out, and in the meantime I’ll have more and more vacant apartments for the indigent.”

The city’s response came from Robert Trobe, a deputy administrator at the Human Resources Administration. He wrote to Mr. Trump: ”While we greatly appreciate your offer, it does not seem appropriate to house clients in a building slated for demolition.”

Mr. Trobe was more candid in a later interview: ”In light of the temporary nature of his proposal and his interest in moving out some other people, I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling and therefore am not pursuing it.”

I don’t think these bureaucrats grasp the full extent of the Trump good will. When Young Trump initially made his offer, he mentioned only that the free apartments would have heat, hot water and ”beautiful views.” Officialdom never gave him a chance to elaborate.

Now, he says, ”I’ll also pay for nurses. And I’ll pay for any medical supplies that are needed.” It’s enough to sweep you off your feet. But still the city, Scrooge-like, says nothing doing.

Consider the possibilities. There’s the dazzling Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and soon there’ll be a brilliant Trump casino in Atlantic City. And now he’s offering us the Trump Chateau For The Indigent overlooking Central Park. A place in the sun for the forgotten.

Young Trump says the building in its present status, because its apartments are rent-controlled or rent-stabilized, is being misused by ”people of great wealth” who are paying minuscule rents for ”the best location in the city.” ”I have multimillionaires living in rent-controlled apartments.”

This building, says Trump, is a symbol of the bizarre anomalies imposed on the city’s critical housing supply by the rent-regulation system. He contends that if we could abolish the system, at least for the plutocracy, and charge fair market rents to all those with a net worth of over $1 million, buildings throughout Manhattan would produce significantly higher tax revenues for the government — and instead of pinched city budgets, we would have bulging surpluses. ”We’d have money for cleaning our streets,” he promised. ”Money for more cops. The city would be healthier.” Maybe if he weren’t so busy emptying and putting up buildings, he could run for mayor and save us.

Before we allow ourselves to rejoice, however, there seem to be several nagging problems with both his specific proposal for 100 Central Park South and his larger solution for the city.

For example, while some of the tenants in the 15-story Central Park South building are quite rich, many are elderly people living on fixed incomes, such as Social Security checks, who have made their homes there for 20 years or more.

Further, although he is right that the building-as-is produces little if any profit and generates only a modest property tax check annually for the city, Mr. Trump knew all that when he bought the place two years ago. He didn’t mind then, because he thought he could empty it swiftly and erect a big profit-maker in its place.

His several court suits to get tenants out have so far failed — one judge suggested that his case was frivolous — and the tenants have accused him in turn of harassment and cutting of the building’s services.

And finally, if this young P.T. Barnum of real estate is so concerned about our pinched city budgets, why is he then suing the city for a $20 million tax abatement for the Trump Tower, a building on which he has already turned a profit of over $100 million — with more to come?

Yes, one can see there are hitches. But shouldn’t we look at the larger picture? While other landlords — just the bad apples, of course — bring in goons and dogs and arsonists to drive out tenants, Donald Trump is only bringing in derelicts. ”I am sincere,” he says. ”I just want to help get some of these people off the streets.”

We should be grateful. We should consider him for mayor.

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Show Me the Money

Donald Trump caricature - Magnusson/McClatchy-Tribune via Beyond the Killing Fields

Illustration: Magnusson/McClatchy-Tribune

By Sydney H. Schanberg

This first appeared in The Village Voice Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In a world of genocide, terrorism, global warming, and the Asian bird plague, what would the press do for levity without Donald Trump? Take a look at his latest comedy routine. Trump — about whom the only certainty is that he lacks the tiniest smidgen of an acquaintance with the truth — has filed a libel and slander lawsuit against a reporter for writing a book that Trump says is untruthful.

The reporter is Timothy O’Brien of The New York Times. His book, which debuted in late October, is TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald (Warner Books). The lawsuit charges that O’Brien has defamed Trump by writing that the real estate promoter and full-time celebrity, who boasts that he’s a billionaire many times over, “was not remotely close to” a net worth of even $1 billion.

The suit contends that Trump provided O’Brien with all his financial documents and gave the reporter hours to pore over them. O’Brien says the documents he was shown were marginal or useless in determining net worth. He says Trump refused to let him see any pertinent documents specifically his tax returns, bank statements, an accounting of his debts, and his casino reports to New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.

In the past, Trump has publicly laughed off his critics, including myself. Somehow, O’Brien’s downgrade of his wealth struck at Trump’s visceral essence: his value system of measuring himself solely by his publicized net worth.

Anyway, the suit says the O’Brien book has cost Trump, in just the three months since it came out, a minimum of $2.5 billion. Those are the damages Trump seeks”in no event less than $2.5 billion.” Trump’s lawyers give no details on how this disaster has occurred. On the other hand, we should recall that Trump has gone into corporate bankruptcy (on his casino “empire”) twice in recent years first in the ’90s and again last year.

The arithmetic, however, is interesting. The Forbes annual list of the 400 richest Americans placed Trump at No. 83 in its latest tally and set his net worth at $2.7 billion. If he has suddenly lost at least $2.5 billion and the book is still causing havoc then Trump must be close to busted.

Oddly, in his lawsuit, Trump offers only the Forbes list which is viewed by financial analysts as anything but scientific as evidence of his billionaire status. Yet in 1990, in Surviving at the Top, here is what Trump wrote about the validity of the list: “It always amazed me that people pay so much attention to Forbes magazine. Every year the Forbes 400 comes out, and people talk about it as if it were a rigorously researched compilation of America’s wealthiest people, instead of what it really is: a sloppy, highly arbitrary estimate of certain people’s net worth.”

Since I have periodically chronicled Donald’s adventures over the years, a sampling of the history might help us better understand him.

1980: Donald was demolishing the Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue to make way for Trump Tower. He promised to save two 15-foot-high Art Deco friezes on the building’s facade and donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But when it became clear that saving the sculptures would be costly, Donald destroyed them instead. “My biggest concern,” he explained, pretending to honor the truth, “was the safety of the people on the street below. If one of those stones had slipped, people could have been killed.”

1983: Donald tried to drive the tenants out of 100 Central Park South so he could raze the 15-story building and put up a skyscraper. He failed to empty the building because the city sued him for cutting the building’s “essential services” and refusing to repair “defective conditions with life-threatening potential.” Professing his good faith, Donald made an offer to the city to temporarily house homeless people in the 14 apartments that he had been able to empty. City officials saw this for what it was, a scare tactic to drive out the rest of the tenants, and they rejected it.

1984: In an interview with The Washington Post, Donald offered himself for the post of nuclear arms negotiator with the Soviet Union. Describing himself as a master deal maker, he said all he would have to do is get “updated” on the subject. “It would take,” he said, “an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway.”

1986: 100 Central Park South again. The tenants had won their case the building couldn’t be demolished and they were staying. Donald, piqued, sued their law firm for engaging in an “illicit scheme of commercial blackmail.” A federal judge swiftly threw out the suit.

1987: Donald called Mayor Ed Koch a “moron.” Koch responded, “Piggy, piggy, piggy.” In Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, he wrote: “I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form.”

1989: Donald reportedly went to wife Ivana’s plastic surgeon to remove flab from his chin and waist by liposuction. He also went for hair transplants and scalp reduction to disguise his creeping baldness.

1990: Donald was overextended with debt. His casinos were defaulting on bond interest. He divorced Ivana, and his business was essentially in the control of his creditors, who kept him on for his celebrity name and gave him an allowance.

1991: Donald displayed his new wife-to-be, Marla Maples, at a prizefight at his Taj Mahal casino. The crowd chanted, “Mar-la! Mar-la!” Donald beamed. A writer from Esquire was with them, doing a profile on him. Referring to the press, Donald told the writer, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write, as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

And so on. And so on. But you get the idea: Trump is a class act who always tells the truth and keeps himself in the public eye by bullying people regularly with frivolous lawsuits.

At the start of his career in hype and carnival barking, the press fawned over him; he made great copy. It’s refreshing that reality has finally crept into the coverage.

Another species of reality crept in on December 12, when O’Brien did a book signing at Coliseum Books on 42nd Street. As the event drew to a close, according to a witness, a man approached O’Brien at the signing table, leaned over, and told him quietly that if he didn’t stop doing publicity for the book, “we’re going to get you.” The man was Marc E. Kasowitz, Trump’s lead lawyer in the lawsuit.

Asked by the Voice if he was at the book signing, Kasowitz said, “No comment.” Asked about the remark the witness overheard, he said: “I never said that to anybody” and then he laughed nervously.

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Donald Humbug

Lobby of 100 Central Park South where owner Donald Trump harassed tenants - 100centralparks via Beyond the Killing Fields

Entrance to Donald Trump’s 100 Central Park South.

By Sydney H. Schanberg

This first appeared as an Op-Ed column in The New York Times on February 7, 1984

Donald Trump is everywhere these days – putting together a pro football team with multi million-dollar contracts, hinting at stepping into the huge Lincoln West housing development, telling the Governor and Mayor where they ought to build the projected sports complex, talking about erecting the world’s tallest building. And, oh yes, he also spent some time trying to obstruct a group of his tenants from putting up a Christmas tree in their lobby.

It’s very hard to understand why young Donald — busy as he is making cosmic decisions — would bother himself with a matter this petty. But the mogul-statesman has become so upset at the tenants of 100 Central Park South — because they’re not too keen about his desire to throw them out, tear down the building and put up a bigger and glossier structure – that he has lapsed into tantrum and been behaving like a slumlord.

Ever since he bought the nice 15-story apartment house (across from the St. Moritz Hotel, views of Central Park) two and a half years ago, he has been bedeviling the tenants, with a view to eviction.

He brought specious lawsuits against some of them, and judges have thrown these out, charging him with ”bad faith,” ”harassment” and ”intimidation” — in one case ordering young Donald to pay the tenant’s legal fees. Also, he proposed putting some of the city’s homeless people into the dozen or so apartments he has already emptied in the building. The city smelled a scheme to use the derelicts to scare out the rest of the tenants, so it correctly declined the offer.

Then Young Donald’s bluff was called. A well-known refugee organization, the International Rescue Committee, asked him, since the homeless idea had been rejected, if he would instead take in Polish exiles from the Solidarity movement on a temporary basis. His office said no – the offer was only for ”people who live in America now, not refugees.”

Meanwhile, Donald was not treating his tenants who live in America very well. He hired a new company with a tough reputation, Citadel Management, to run the 100 Central Park South building. Services began to decline, repairs weren’t made. The luxury building turned shabby. He has tinned up the windows of vacant apartments that face Central Park, giving the facade a grotesque look. Young Donald says this is for security, but the back windows of the same apartments, easier to break into, are not tinned up. Moreover, under Citadel Management, the building’s security has been porous, with several burglaries – very rare before Trump ownership – in the last couple of years.

Which brings us to the Christmas tree. Young Donald and his agents had not allowed either a tree or any other decorations for the first two Christmases, but the tenants decided to try again last December.

They wrote a letter to Citadel asking permission to put a tree in the lobby – stressing that all costs would be assumed by the tenants. A sour letter came back, saying that tenant ”activities” had ”made it quite difficult for Management to feel that a relaxed, ‘holiday season spirit’ relationship exists at the building.” But Citadel said it would not block the project if the tenant spokesman, John Moore 3d, would sign a bizarre legal document in which he would have agreed, among other things, to have the decorations ”comply with applicable governmental regulations” and to take them down should any tenant complain that they ”infringe upon his or her religious beliefs.” This document never got signed because, fortuitously, Citadel’s maintenance employees in the building got some signals crossed and put up the tree while the negotiations were still in progress. Citadel’s front office fumed but could do nothing.

Young Donald keeps saying – as recently as two Sundays ago on television – that his attempts to get the tenants out are justified because the building is occupied by ”many multimillionaires” paying rents of $250 a month. Only a handful of the tenants can be described as rich; most are either average working people or elderly men and women on fixed incomes, such as Social Security, who have lived there many years. And although the rents are either rent-controlled or rent-stabilized, the average is several hundred dollars higher than $250. In any case, Young Donald knew all this when he eagerly bought the building in 1981.

”Were we multimillionaires,” one of the tenants wrote me recently, ”we might have moved by now, because ever since Donald Trump bought this building, we have been living under a state of siege.”

Yesterday he had his lawyers harassing the tenants again, bringing the rent-stabilized group before the city’s Conciliation and Appeals Board in another specious attempt to evict them – even though he knows that on April 1 this board’s duties will be taken over by the state and its proceedings in this case will be meaningless.

In an interview in this newspaper a month ago, Donald Trump said of his work and his style: ”You have to give quality. And I’ve always gone first class.”

What he’s doing at 100 Central Park South shows no class at all.

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Doer and Slumlord Both

Donald Trump, 1985 - Press of Atlantic City via Beyond the Killing Fields

Donald Trump in 1985

By Sydney H. Schanberg

This first appeared as an Op-Ed column in The New York Times on March 9, 1985

Donald Trump, the developer, is in the newspapers almost every day for one thing or another. If he isn’t building a skyscraper castle or a football team, he is trying to harass some tenants out of one of his properties.

It’s strange for a young man who so craves achievement, recognition, respectability and acceptance to mix into his master-builder activities the petty act of abusing tenants. Yet, though hard to explain, there seems little doubt that it has happened. Both the city and the state, in detailed papers, have brought actions against him for mistreatment of tenants — the state in an administrative proceeding and the city in a lawsuit seeking heavy fines.

The case involves the rather nice 15-story building at 100 Central Park South, overlooking the park. He bought it in 1981 with the intention of tearing it and the adjacent building down (the Barbizon Plaza, which he also owns) and replacing them with another of his mega-luxury towers. The curious thing about his plans is that he knew that the building was pretty much fully occupied and that the apartments were protected by either rent control or rent stabilization.

The city and state papers allege that Mr. Trump and his agents proceeded to try to force out the 60 or more tenants by the following tactics: ”threats of imminent demolition,” ”spurious litigation,” ”drastic decreases in essential services,” ”persistent delay in repairing defective conditions with life-threatening potential,” ”instructing employees to obtain information about the private lives (and) sex habits of the tenants,” and ”engaging in a psychological tug- of-war to wear the tenants down which has had a deleterious effect upon the health and well-being of said tenants, many of whom are elderly and are particularly vulnerable to defendants’ persistent course of conduct.”

In sum, the city’s lawsuit, which was filed last week, says that ”defendants have harassed daily the occupants of said units” and that ”defendants’ wrongful acts and omissions continue to date.”

This legal action is like the ones the city brings against slumlords because – unfortunately – Mr. Trump in this instance is behaving like one.

He contends that he is the victim of wily, wealthy millionaire-tenants who are trying to extract exorbitant buyout money or other financial concessions from him. Yes, there are some well-to-do tenants in the building who have a very good deal living there at low, controlled rents. But most of the tenants are either average working people or elderly pensioners living on small fixed incomes, such as Social Security, who have lived there many years. Mr. Trump, the preponderance of the evidence suggests, tried to force these people out on the cheap. This is a man whose net worth was recently estimated at $400 million. He says he’ll fight the case all the way.

”Trump is not going to be harassed,” he told a Times reporter. Mr. Trump’s friends and supporters say he’s done a lot for the city with his developing and deal-making skills. There’s truth in this, for his Hyatt hotel and his Trump Tower have created jobs and economic activity. But does his contribution to the city’s economy excuse him from civilized behavior? Is he exempt from obeying the city’s laws? Though the press has not exempted Mr. Trump, it has generally treated him in a kindly fashion.

His behavior on Central Park South has received but sparse coverage. Though it would normally be defined as substantial news when the city sues one of the biggest developers in town, only one of the three daily newspapers carried the story.

Mr. Trump’s other activities and lavish life style get a lot of space in the press, local and national. A recent profile in The Washington Post quoted him as saying he was ready to take on new, world-sized tasks — referring to his heretofore unrevealed wish to become the nation’s negotiator on arms limitation with the Soviet Union. He says he’s a master negotiator, and could do a better job on arms talks than ”the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past.” Becoming an expert on nuclear weaponry would be easy, he said. ”It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” he explained. ”I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation.”

Maybe Mr. Trump should take the afternoon off to study up on missiles and leave the tenants of 100 Central Park South alone.

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