Advertisements of Malice Promote Uncivil Conduct

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, May 9, 1989

It used to be, in communities that considered themselves civilized, that when somebody scrawled hate messages on building or took out hate ads in the local newspapers, they either got arrested or ostracized. People would be offended, ashamed, outraged.

Not in New York. In New York — where the ruling class considers itself urbane, cosmopolitan and large-minded — hate peddlers are apparently good company. Donald Trump has proved that.

A week ago, on Monday, May 1, Trump took out full-page ads in New York City’s newspapers calling upon all of us “to hate.” Oh yes, he was careful to say in the ads that the people he wanted us “to hate” were the “roving bands of wild criminals [who] roam our neighborhoods.” His ads were in response to the terrible group rape and beating of a young woman in Central Park on the night of April 19, and Trump was counting on the feelings of shock and even vengeance in the community to give his message a friendly reception. He also knew that all the young men accused of the crime were black or Hispanic.

To think that such a hate ad would not carry a racial message would be stupid. And Donald Trump the Gambling King, Donald Trump the Stock Market Manipulator, Donald Trump the Potentate of Self-Publicity, may be a troglodyte — but he is not stupid.

So he knew, when he spent his $85,000 to take out these ads calling for reinstatement of the death penalty and calling for more cops with greater powers on the streets, that he was saying something racial. He worded the ads skillfully to avoid overt racial language, but when he said he wanted more “law and order [to] keep up safe from those who would prey on innocent lives to fulfill some distorted inner need,” anyone who could read knew he was saying he wanted protection against “them.”

And we also know that he took out no ads in 1986, when “roving bands of wild criminals” attacked three black men in Howard Beach and chased one of them into traffic to be killed by a car.

Those who brutally assaulted the young woman three weeks ago in Central Park should be punished severely, after being found guilty at a trial. But that’s not the issue in Donald Trump’s ads. For they are lynch-mob ads and nothing else. Then why is it that the only group in our society to condemn the ads was a coalition of black clergy? They took out their own ads to say that Trump’s message was a “thinly veiled racist polemic” — and they were right.

The black ministers added: “The crime committed by those young boys was wicked and abominable. In due course they will get what they deserve. But we will broach no indictment of us as a race over one incident. And we will not offer our youth up as sacrifice to appease false gods like Mr. Trump.”

Why did no one else stand up and speak out? Mayor Ed Koch disagreed with Trump but spoke without true censure. “He had a right to express his opinion,” Koch said. “He’s expressing hatred and I’m expressing anger. There’s a big difference.” Koch didn’t say we should shun people who issued calls for hate and lynching bees. He said they had a right to their opinions.

Before anyone leaps up to remind me of the Constitution’s protection of freedom of expression, let me refer you to Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion in Schenck vs. United States in 1919, a precedent that still stands. He wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

Donald Trump knew that there is racial tension in this city, where half the population is non-white and power is held predominantly by whites, and therefore he knew that he was throwing kerosene on smoldering coals. And yet in the white community, where invitations to Donald Trump’s yacht are coveted, little or nothing was said of his inflammatory conduct.

Over this past weekend, Gov. Mario Cuomo — who has striven to be a national symbol of humane leadership — joined hands with Donald Trump in Albany to help promote a bicycle race named after Trump. At the photo opportunity on the Empire Plaza mall, Trump called the governor “a great guy, who is a great friend,” and Cuomo smiled.

Is Mario Cuomo so desperate for publicity that he must embrace a man who takes out hate ads in the newspapers? This is, curiously, the same Mario Cuomo who has staunchly opposed and vetoed the death penalty and who said just a few weeks ago: “We the people of New York ought now in this hour of fright to show the way. We should refuse to allow this time to be marked forever in the pages of our history as the time that we were driven back to one of the vestiges of our primitive condition because we were not strong enough, because we were not intelligent enough, because we were not civilized enough to find a better answer to violence — than violence.”

And what about Rudolph Giuliani, mayoral candidate, who’s first big campaign fundraiser, later this month, will be co-chaired by the very Donald Trump of the hate ads? Could this be why Giuliani said last week that Trump’s ads had contributed to “a healthy debate”?

It appears that we now live in a city where hate ads pass for “healthy debate.” Yes, and no neighborhood should be without its very own lynch mob.

 

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Poor Ed Now Has to Deal With the Trump Card

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, April 22, 1988

The mind grew so heavy from the darkness of the primary campaign that it pined for something optimistic or at least diverting to write about.

When you live in a multi-racial and multi-ethnic city where the mayor plays with racial and ethnic matches, you sorely need a break in the clouds. So yesterday, when Donald Trump, the entrepreneur, offered to renovate the falling-down Williamsburg Bridge, it was something to seize upon.

It goes without saying that Donald Trump has his own self-serving reasons for making the offer. He loves being the king of the hill, the master builder, gambling potentate of Atlantic City, the solver of problems that daunt all other mortals, the cover boy on every glossy magazine.

But in this case, I decided, so what.

The bridge was in such calamitous shape that it had to be shut down completely last week. And when it was, thereby imposing hardship on the 240,000 people who used it every day, Mayor Edward Koch announced that it was in no way his fault because although he has been in office more than 10 years, the crumbling started before that. It was the mayor’s familiar Teflon speech.

If one’s elected chief executive not only sets uncivilized behavior as the desired standard but also disclaims responsibility for every new deterioration in municipal services and the quality of life, it becomes pragmatically necessary to welcome help from unorthodox sources. In parlous times, one cannot be took picky about one’s benefactors.

I have no illusions about Donald Trump, but this city needs all the help it can get. I have in fact over the years poked and jabbed at the foibles and tall stories of this impresario of tall buildings and money and glitz. I have prodded him to take a little time off from building castles for the rich to create modest abodes for the homeless and working poor. He has disdained all such suggestions, for they are without glamour or gain.

Thus, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Donald Trump likely does not regard me as a contributor to the image he prefers. And yet, all that notwithstanding, I am happy to have him around today, happy to put my disappointments aside for the moment and to welcome his offer to make the Williamsburg Bridge whole again. We need the bridge. We need to keep the city from falling apart.

We mustn’t let it distract us that Donald Trump is doing this in some measure to show up his old nemesis, Edward Koch. He has upstaged the mayor before, you will recall. Two years ago, he stepped in to put Central Park’s Wollman Skating Rink in working order again, after the city had wasted $12 million and six years in a futile effort to do it. Trump did it in a few months for under $3 million.

Koch simmered and stewed over that humiliation as Trump posed for pictures in the winner’s circle. Now the mayor is looking at a mortification of much greater proportions. The skating rink was a country cottage, the bridge is a pyramid. And bridges have always excited the imagination like no other construction project.

On more than one level, the mayor invited this erosion of his rule. First, he let the city run down — taking credit for balancing the budget but refusing credit for the service slashes that made the balance possible. And second, in his earlier jousting with Trump, he dared the developer to do more things for the city.

Although Koch was talking about housing for the homeless when he issued the dare, the words he used when he threw down this gauntlet must be haunting him now. He said tauntingly: “Why don’t you come in, Donald, and show us how good you are.” And now Donald has come in and asked the mayor to hold his cashmere coat while he converts the Williamsburg Bridge from a slum dwelling into, if not a luxury condominium, at least a renewed high-rise.

Koch, of course, could snarl and refuse Trump’s offer, but he knows that by doing so, he would run the risk of alienating the ordinary people who rely on the bridge and have come not to rely on the mayor’s ability to keep the city’s infrastructure functioning. And the mayor knows he cannot afford to lose any more of his waning popularity.

What all of this signals — Koch’s unacceptable behavior in the primary, his failures as a manager, the widening awareness among voters of his weaknesses — is that, along with new bridges and roads and housing, we need a new mayor.

That’s what the people often referred to as the shakers and movers have been talking about in New York City this week. Some who have been quiet before are now saying of Koch that enough is enough. The questions that cannot as yet be answered is whether this disaffection will take root and solidify, or whether the mayor will song-and-dance his way through it once more, as he had for three terms. The clamorous and tricky process of finding a consensus candidate — many will offer themselves — has only just begun.

Meanwhile, we will have the temporary fun of watching the giant egos of Koch and Trump bang into each other. The last time they went at it, the mayor christened the developer as “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy,” and Trump called him a “moron” and “a disaster [who] can’t hack it anymore.”

Anyway, it might take our minds off the primary, for which we have to be thankful. Not to mention the relief we’ll get from seeing the bridge repaired.

 

 

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How Big of a Bundle Does Trump Require?

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, May 8, 1987

Chutzpa (noun) — Gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible “guts”; presumptions-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language [but Yiddish] can do justice to. The classic definition of chutzpa is, of course, this: Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. — Leo Rosten, “The Joys of Yiddish”

Nice try, Donald. Gotta hand it to ya. You had the brass to offer to sell the government your version of the Brooklyn Bridge. You say that for the price of one thin dollar, you’ll give us your whole 100-acre Television City tract on the Upper West Side. All you want in return is a 30-year tax abatement, a 99-year lease and a clause that says you get ownership of the land back after 30 years. What a steal for the community! Or should we say a steal from the community?

You would get tens of millions of dollars in tax forgiveness and, because government would be the landowner, you could build any megalopolis you wanted on the huge site — without having to go through zoning review or public scrutiny.

What would we call this gargantua of concrete on the Hudson? You’ve already used Tower and Castle and Parc. Maybe you could call it Trump’s Kingdom — that has a nice ring. Myself, I prefer Trump’s Dump.

Before I say anything else, Donald, I want to offer you my sympathy on your orphanhood and wish you the best of luck in this attempt to snooker the city. You realize, of course, that while Mayor Edward Koch has been generous to real estate titans like yourself who have contributed big bucks to his campaigns, he is nonetheless not a schnook.

So, as you’ve noticed, Donald, City Hall has responded to your delicious scam by saying that the proposal “appears to go well beyond what’s necessary” and that although “we’re willing to put city assistance on the table, we’re not going to subsidize a private developer” to that extent.

The city assistance they’re talking about has to do with the nine acres of the 100 that you’ve hopefully set aside for the National Broadcasting Co. in order to induce the network not to move its headquarters and operations to New Jersey when its leases at Rockefeller Center expire in 1997. 

These big companies are always talking about moving to Jersey or Connecticut. Some of them even do it. It’s got something to do with country clubs and golf courses. For example, General Electric, which bought NBC a while ago, moved its headquarters to Connecticut back in 1974.

Just recently, the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., only a few short years after receiving a $40-million-plus tax abatement to put up its new headquarters building on Madison Avenue, announced that it was moving most of the 1,300 headquarter employees to leafy Basking Ridge, N.J., and would rent out the vacated office space. Koch exploded at this ingratitude and threatened to sue for the return of the abatement. AT&T then modified its stance and said it would put the decision on hold pending negotiations with the city. What AT&T didn’t tell us was that a number of headquarters people, maybe a substantial number, had already been shifted to New Jersey before the announcement was made. Asked about this, AT&T will not comment.

So you see, Donald, while you’re the premier chutzpanik in this town, you’re not the only one. 

Maybe your critics are being unfair to you. Could it be that you’re just a big-hearted, civic-minded robber baron who wants nothing for himself but the warm feeling he’ll get from doing the good deed of bring GE back to Gotham and staying its child, NBC, from leaving? That’s why, you said, you needed those tax abatements and the rest of the sweetheart deal for Television City: because then you could pass on the goodies to GE/NBC in the form of low rents and other subsidies.

City Hall says that it’s not interested in subsidizing you, Donald, but that it does want to provide “what is necessary” to NBC to keep the network here. It’s a little confusing. If the city gives concessions to NBC, the company you’re wooing to be your “anchor tenant,” doesn’t this help you get the entire megaproject moving? In short, won’t you profit handsomely from this subsidy?

I know it’s tasteless to discuss money matters, but do you really need this handout? Haven’t you been cleaning up lately with manipulative trading on the stock market? Didn’t you make $80 million last week when you sold your stake in Allegis Corp.? And wasn’t that in addition to the $70 million you rang up in stock profits a few months ago in takeover attempts involving Atlantic City casinos?

Isn’t that enough dough to get Television City off the ground? Or is that a questions only a churlish critic would ask? Let me ask another: How much money does one person require to get by on? I can see you needing a little something once in a while to tide you over a big weekend at your manse in Palm Beach, but why not just hit up one of your flush friends for a short-term loan? They know you’re good for it. Asking the city for welfare is just not seemly. And I know the thing you most desire not to be, Donald, is tacky.

The last time I wrote to you in this space, I suggested that you could put all the unkind talk to rest with one simple act: Build some housing for the homeless or for low-incoming working people. I agree that the rich are blesses and wondrous tenants, but they don’t need your help or your subsidies anymore. They’ll understand if you don’t build another glitzy castle for a while and shift your talents instead to those who really need them.

Come on, Donald, put your money where your chutzpa is.

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‘Why Pay Less?’ Is the Trump Chump Philosophy

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, May 24, 1988

Every time I think I’ve got Donald Trump figured out, he confounds me. Take the full-page ad he bought in yesterday’s New York Times. The whole back page of the first news section, which the Times sells for $39,000 and change. So Donald Trump took Ivana’s weekly clothing allowance to buy an ad just to tell us that the apartments in his Trump Tower cost more than anybody else’s in New York City. The ad doesn’t say the apartments are the most luxurious in all Gotham or the best constructed or even that they have the most spectacular views. They just cost more money, it says.

In some cities, that might put people off as just the slightest bit tacky. Not in New York. To pay more for something here is to go to the top of the nouveau heap instantly. Picture the oneupmanship at a table in Mortimer’s: “Did I tell you, my dears, we just bought an apartment. In Trump Tower. You won’t believe this, but it was $1,273 a square foot. The highest per-square-foot price in the entire city. You can see why we simply had to have it.”

The quote may be fictional, but the square-foot championship price was a central part of Donald’s ad. So was his claim, taken from a survey done by a luxury condo broker, that “the top price paid for an apartment in New York City in 1987 was in Trump Tower.” Then it said: “Amazingly, of the 10 most expensive apartments, four were in Trump Tower.” And that was about it, except for a final sentence which said that “The Trump name, locations and buildings have proven, once again, to be the standard by which all others are judged.”

He presumably means the gold standard or, since that’s old hat, maybe the Croesus or cupidity standard.

Donald has changed. Time was when he would have died before he would have defined Trump Tower by its price tag.

Remember his original brochure for the 68-story pyramid? “Imagine a tall bronze tower of glass,” it said. “Imagine life within such a tower. Elegant. Sophisticated. Strictly beau mode…Quickly, quietly, the elevator takes you to your floor and your elevator man sees you home. You turn the key and wait a moment before clicking on the light. A quiet moment to take in the view — wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling — New York at dusk. The sky is pink and gray. Thousands of tiny lights are snaking their way through Central Park. Bridges have become jeweled necklaces. Your diamond in the sky. It seems a fantasy. And you are home.”

That was back in 1982. Donald was still a poet then. Something has corroded and jaded him. Maybe it’s the cynicism that seizes a man’s soul when his victories come too easily and, as time passes, he finds fewer and fewer challenges worthy of him. Maybe it’s his disappointment with h is early role model, Mayor Edward Koch. Maybe it’s his dream of the White House, a dream deferred as he looks at his party’s nominee, George Bush, and wonders where the nation’s spine went. Not to mention its poetry.

Whatever the tangled roots of his malaise, he’s not the Donald we used to know. The old Donald wouldn’t have bothered to take out this ad. He would have just sneered at those who would quibble with his superlatives, and then he would have wandered onto the moors and written more poems.

You see, the reason Donald bought the ad was that he allowed himself to get upset by an article in 7 Days, a bright new weekly magazine about life in Manhattan. The article, by Samantha Roberts, said that some golden people who had bought apartments in Trump Tower and later became disillusioned were having trouble now selling their “diamond in the sky.” A number of them have taken losses in order to unload the flats.

The 7 Days article was an update of a more comprehensive New York Newsday piece by Sylvia Moreno that ran a year ago. That piece described how “Paul den Haene, the former owner of Poland Spring Co., took a $251,000 bath on the resale…of three condos in the tower for which he had paid $2.6 million.” Den Haene described the materials and the craftsmanship in the apartments as “cheapo, el cheapo.”

Why should Donald care about what sore-loser Philistines think? Why doesn’t he consult the muses anymore instead of getting down and dirty into demeaning mud fights? Like the lawsuits he’s always filing against the city and state to get better tax breaks — even though he hardly knows what to do with the money when he wins.

Even on Trump Tower, where he made perhaps $100 million in clear profit, he couldn’t turn the other cheek when the city sought to deny him the special tax gifts because it was a luxury building instead of a place within reach of ordinary mortals. He sued the city and won his tax gift — a swell $40 to $50 million.

And now he’s taking out ads telling us his Trump Tower apartments are selling for world record prices. They’d be even more expensive if he hadn’t got the tax subsidy from the public treasury.

You know, I don’t want to be petty, but I figured it out, and $6.39 of that tax break was my money. A lot of my friends paid, too.

Donald, next time you take out an ad, make it poetic — poetic justice. Let it be an announcement, to all of us who have contributed to your support payments, that the check is in the mail. 

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