It’s Time For Trump to Leave Havelot for Camelot

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, October 23, 1987

Some people think it was bad taste for Donald Trump to announce that he had just made $175 million on the stock market and gotten out early, before Monday’s great crash. It was callous and unfeeling, they said, to boast about your high-rolling profits while little people, small investors, were holding their heads and watching their modest nest eggs shrivel and fade into painful puniness.

These critics just don’t understand Donald. He wasn’t rubbing it in. Sure, he asked his public relations representative, Howard Rubenstein Associates, to call all the newspapers and tell them Donald had been smarter than the rest, that he had not only avoided loss but had walked off with a fifth-of-a-billion gain. But all Donald was trying to do by bringing his good-fortune story to the attention of the media was set an example. That’s all he ever wants to do. He wants to show us what brains and competence can accomplish.

Just follow my lead, he keeps saying to all of us. Heaven knows we need role models. I have only one beef. We would have appreciated this stock market escape a lot more if he had told us about it while he was bailing out, when we too could have grabbed a bailing can, instead of after the fact, when we were no longer afloat.

But this probably never occurred to Donald, what with all the foreign affairs and social issues that are on his mind. Last month, when he took out full-page ads in The New York Times and other major papers to criticize American foreign policy for its lack of “backbone,” a Trump aide explained: “Donald is drifting toward a greater social role, that’s why he purchased the ads. It’s that perfectionist thing in him. He sees things that could be better and asks why not.”

Could it be that Donald, the builder of castles, is dreaming of leading us back to Camelot? Or is it Havelot?

You see, as outlandish as this may sound, there are people who think Donald behaves ostentatiously and crassly, flaunting his wealth, boasting about his deals, asking the public to measure his self-worth by his net worth. Then, too, he throws major tantrums when he doesn’t get his way — suggesting an errant child more than an incipient national leader.

Yesterday, he was in New Hampshire, the state of the first presidential primary, addressing a group of Republican leaders on cosmic issues — the trade deficit, the Persian Gulf, etc., etc.

But in New York earlier this week, his lawyers were in court trying to evict an old lady from one of his buildings. He’s been trying to throw her out since he bought the place in 1981. There’s nothing very cosmic about a landlord trying to force a tenant out; it’s known as good old greed. The two bedroom apartment at 100 Central Park South falls under rent control, so the monthly rent is only $203 — and Donald, if he gets the woman out, can sell it as a condominium for a very large amount. 

It’s hard to reconcile $175-million scores on the stock market with grubby attempts to evict old ladies. I guess that’s why the Howard Rubenstein public relations company didn’t mention the eviction proceeding when it called the newspapers to report Donald’s Wall Street winnings.

For the record, the tenant’s name is Suzanne Kaaren Blackmer. She’s 74. She’s been in the apartment since 1945. She is the widow of the actor Sidney Blackmer and was an actress in her own time. She says her income is mainly from Social Security and a small pension from the actors’ union. She is represented by a lawyer from a legal services office for senior citizens.

Trump contends that her primary home is in North Carolina; she says the apartment has always been her home. The case will be decided in the courts, but one wonders why Donald, with assets maybe as high as $3 billion, engages in such petty pursuits. Is it because he can’t stand losing, no matter how small the issue? Or is it because he thinks we are so blinded by the rays from his piles of gold that we simply won’t see the seamy side of his activities? Given the state of national manners and our worship of profit and those who amass it, maybe he’s right. The cover stories that lionize him would suggest this.

My guess, however, is that Donald Trump’s almost desperate search for public approval will have no lasting result until he actually does something of social value. People may envy a Midas, or even someone who has built a Midas image through hype, but envy does not necessarily carry respect or liking with it.

Donald has passed up all sorts of opportunities to win the respect of New Yorkers. For example, he expresses constant distress about the homeless problem, but makes no move to build housing for the homeless, or even low-income housing. 

But he has not run out of chances to be remembered positively forever. Right now, on the largest undeveloped tract in Manhattan, a 76-acre stretch along the Hudson River on the Upper West Side, he wants to erect the world’s tallest building at 150 stories, plus 11 other skyscrapers, plus a hotel and a giant shopping mall. The project — with the thousands of people and vehicles it would draw — would quite simply drown the surrounding community.

Donald Trump, with all his winnings, could donate the land to the city as a great park. It could be an extension of historic and important Riverside Park. New York hasn’t seen a gift like this in ages. A grateful city might even name it Trump Park.

Talking about his material successes in his forthcoming autobiography, Donald Trump writes: “I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, more more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form.” 

Do the biggest deal of your life, Donald. Create a work of art, create a great park.

 

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New York; No Foreigners Need Apply

Donald Trump, 1983, Time Magazine via Beyond the Killing Fields

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in The New York Times, August 2, 1983

When last we left Young Donald Trump in this space, a couple of months ago, I had praised him – tongue in cheek – for his revolutionary plan to solve New York’s homeless problem.

He had made the Koch administration an offer to house — free of charge, with heat, hot water and grand views of Central Park — some of the city’s sidewalk people. He wanted to put them into 14 empty apartments in a building he owns on fashionable Central Park South, across from the Cafe de la Paix.

The offer was only temporary, unfortunately, since Young Donald plans to demolish the 15-story building and erect in its place a larger and much more lucrative luxury hotel or condominium.

City officials were naturally suspicious — as was this corner — and declined the Trump magnanimity. They thought he merely wanted to implant the derelicts as a scare tactic to drive out the remaining paying tenants faster and thus start making his big profits faster.

While Young Donald has certain talents and is likable (somewhat in the manner of Old Ronald), and while the city will always need brash and hustling developers, his proposal was a lot of eyewash. Put simply, it was obscenely condescending to the homeless, using them as pawns without feelings, callous to the tenants and devious to the city agency for the homeless, which said no thanks instantly. In my earlier column, I used lampoon rather than harpoon to skewer the Trump tomfoolery. But then something happened to make me take tongue out of cheek. Charles Sternberg, executive director of the International Rescue Committee – a laudable organization that since 1933 has been helping refugees settle and find jobs in this country – wrote me a letter asking if I thought Mr. Trump would offer the same free apartments to Polish exiles from the Solidarity movement who are seeking a haven in the U.S. The Trump offer was perfect for them, since they need only temporary housing to give them time to find permanent apartments. Moreover, none of the suspicions justifiably raised about placing the homeless in these apartments could attach to the Polish refugees. I suggested to Mr. Sternberg that he write directly to Mr. Trump. His plea to the developer, dated June 21, spoke about Mr. Trump’s ”generous offer” toward the homeless and ”about a problem we are facing with regard to Polish refugees who are now arriving in New York and for whom we are looking rather desperately for affordable housing.”

Mr. Sternberg’s letter went on: ”They are homeless in the sense that as newcomers they have never had a home in the United States. And they are quite desirable tenants, having been exiled from their native country for their active participation in the Solidarnosc struggle. . . .” No response came, so after two weeks, someone from the International Rescue Committee called the Trump office, spoke with an assistant and ”was told that our suggestion was not really what (Mr. Trump) had in mind.” But the assistant said they would ”get back” to the I.R.C. When there was still no word, Mr. Sternberg – last Thursday, five weeks after his initial appeal – wrote a second letter to Mr. Trump. In it, he talked about the growing number of Poles being released from detention on condition they leave Poland and noted that the housing shortage here was not limited to Polish refugees. The I.R.C. in recent years has been helping thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and others. ”Your readiness to assist us,” Mr. Sternberg wrote, ”would not only alleviate this problem . . . but, hopefully, would serve as an example to other landlords and open up similar opportunities in other buildings (set for conversion to co-ops or condominiums). ”Impressed with the spirit of your initial offer, I thought of you as the initiator of a trend which would be of major humanitarian significance in a city which has never been oblivious of the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.”

After receiving a copy of the second letter, we called the Trump office to find out the reason for his coolness to this idea. Young Donald was said to be out of town, but a secretary explained: ”That wasn’t the intention of our offer. We were talking about people who live in America now – not refugees. I don’t think this is something he would consider.”

Let’s all urge him to reconsider. Otherwise, some people around town are going to start calling him a phony.

Unless the Trumps are direct descendents of the Onondagas or the Sioux, their ancestors must have arrived in America in need of a home.

And just when did Young Donald become xenophobic? He has no objection to foreigners buying multimillion-dollar condominiums in his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue or to having foreigners gamble their money at the casino he is building in Atlantic City.

Now’s his chance to prove that he was sincere the first time around, that he wasn’t just trying to scare his tenants out of attractive 100 Central Park South – for profit only.

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Tracking Donald’s Raging Hormones

Donald Trump and Miss Universe 2013 Gabrielle Isler of Venezuela - Vanity Fair via Atticmag

Donald Trump and Miss Universe 2013 Gabrielle Isler of Venezuela. Photo: Vanity Fair

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in New York Newsday, July 2, 1991

The sound to be heard these days from the Trump wallow is — not surprisingly — oink. Donald Trump has finally removed the last shred of his disguise and revealed a creature who talks publicly of his women companions in language no sailor would dream of using about those who have shown kindness to him.

I mean no disrespect to our snouted barnyard friends when I say that Donald has descended into public swinishness. First he dumped his wife, flaunting his new friend in her face on the ski slopes. Now he dumps the friend, but lets her find out from the newspapers. Then he laughs and jokes about her front-page humiliation chortling over how naive she was to believe his pledge that the diamond ring was an engagement bond, when all he was doing was throwing some business to his friends at Tiffany’s.

It is one thing to observe that the age of chivalry seems to be in decline and quite another to believe that therefore it is now acceptable to engage in caddishness so snickeringly brutish as to suggest the unraveling of a mind.

Of maybe what it suggests is a form of hormonal imbalance yet to be studied by medical science. Could Donald be suffering from all those characteristics that men have cited over the generations as peculiar only to women, citations designed to keep men in their privileged, ruling place and to keep women in indentured thrall? Has he not become a classic exhibit of shrillness, cattiness, shrewishness?

Does this not add up to a clinical case of emotional instability? Are we supposed to excuse his conduct by saying, delicately, that this vulgarian is experiencing a change of life?

No, Donald hasn’t changed. He has always been a vulgarian. but before any of you nod and smile in smug superiority, let us remember how many among us contributed to the creation of this negative cultural totem.

Way back at his beginnings, when he was razing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower and decided to demolish the valued Art Deco friezes that graced the Bonwit facade, how loudly did we hiss and boo that he had broken his word to save the stone carvings and give them to the Metropolitan Museum? No, this is New York, where macho and bravado are honored and celebrated, so we privately envied his raw, nose-thumbing posture — and the fact that he got away with it. And what did he say when some criticized him for reneging? He of the hormonal imbalance said, with a sneer: “Who cares?”

And what of all the lawyers and money men who strut around pretending to be the brilliant collossi of this town? What did they do when this carnival barker came to them for hundreds of millions of dollars to build his house of cards? Why, the gave it to him, and then they turned to us and told us how smart a deal it was because this shallow boaster was going to to wondrous things for New York and its economy. Now of course, as the Trump empire tumbles, these inspired financiers at Citicorp, Chase et al are panicking.

And then, alas, there’s the press. Donald could never have risen so quickly without the huzzahs of the star-struck media. Magazine cover stories, admiring newspaper profiles and air-headed television puff pieces all fed his hubris and grandiosity. Reporters clamored for invitations to his yacht and to his casinos. Not a word in print about his raging hormones. No hint of his testosterone attacks.

The conviction that money makes its own rules holds too strong a grip on the power mythology of New York. The so-called shakers and movers who should have clung to at least a shred of their critical judgment were instead awed and transfixed, even when this con man announced that he was a P.T. Barnum resurrected. He was hollow but somehow he was what the big boys wanted to be when they grew up.

Donald imagined himself Robert Redford, the dream of every woman. No matter that he looked like Chubby the Chipmunk and was said to have had himself redone by liposuction and hair transplants. The makeover didn’t help much, but that didn’t slow his self-admiration. His mirror still told him he was the fairest of them all.

“You know,” he said to a magazine reporter, “it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” The reporter put it in his notebook. Donald wanted him to print it. The true cad knows no self-consciousness, only self-hypnosis.

The newspapers continue to record his every swinish act. They see no choice. They, like so many others, were in at the beginning, playing Dr. Frankenstein, stitching Donald together, bringing him to life with bolds of headline lightning. Thus they must follow him until the end. So still he stalks among us, giving the male species a name even worse than any we have legitimately earned.

It probably falls now upon medical science and psychoanalysis to fully explain the Donald phenomenon. Will his body offer up the revelation that hormonal imbalance is just as much a male thing as it is a female one? What role will the scientists find that the moon and the tides play?

Or in the end will they perhaps discover something entirely more pedestrian? Could it be that this is just a case of Trump the Tramp?

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The Self-Importance of Being Donald

btkf-trump-1986.com

Photo: cbsnews.com

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in New York Newsday, May 20, 1986

Donald Trump likes to get his way and when he doesn’t, he sues people. I don’t have a complete list, but recently he has sued New York State, he has sued real estate competitors and he has sued Chicago Tribune because the paper’s architecture writer said some unkind things about Donald’s taste in design.

When he loses a case—which he does with some frequency—he simply changes lawyers and tries again. One gets the feeling he doesn’t care much for lawyers.

In fact, his most recent court suit is against a law firm that had the effrontery to represent some tenants who Donald Trump was trying to evict.

He has accused this firm—Fischbein, Olivieri, Rozenholc & Badillo—of engaging in acts of wickedness, usually depicted only in headlines about the mob: harassment, coercion, attempted extortion and obstruction of justice “in furtherance of this illicit scheme of commercial blackmail.” And he is seeking $150 million in damages from them.

What the tenants’ lawyers actually did—one learns from the court history of the case—was get Donald angry by frustrating his desire to drive the tenants out of 100 Central Park South so he could tear down the 15-story building and put up another Trump tower or palace or hanging garden.

Donald wasn’t just angry, he was livid. The tenants had won; they were staying. He had lost and he still faces serious charges, now being heard both in court and before a state agency, of having abused and harassed the tenants.

Not one to stay on the defense, Donald went after the lawyers. His latest suit against them was filed last week in state Supreme Court. Donald tried out his act first in federal District Court some months ago; he got nowhere.

It was thrown out there with unusual celebrity by Judge Whitman Knapp, whose language was blunt. The federal Court of Appeals was equally curt, not only affirming the Knapp decision but sending it back to the lower court to consider whether Donald should pay damages for having brought a frivolous lawsuit.

The gist of Knapp’s decision was that the tenants’ lawyers had done nothing more than represent their clients in vigorous and effective fashion. Being a man of civility, the judge fell just short of laughing at the charges, which were brought under the federal law against racketeering, known as RICO. He did refer to them, however, as “ludicrous” and deserving of “short shift.”

Having failed in federal courtrooms, Donald changed lawyers and is now clogging the state calendar with this foolishness.

His old lawyer on the case was A. Richard Golub, whose failure in the racketeering field has nonetheless not disqualified him from other of Donald’s litigious activities; there is so much to sue about. Donald’s new representative on racketeering is the law firm of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, etc., whose reputation for serious endeavor seems jeopardized by the humorous papers the firm filed against the tenants’ law firm last week.

It’s not that anyone has to feel sorry for the tenants’ law firm or for the three partners who are names as individual defendants—Richard Fischbein, David Rozenholc, and Herman Badillo, the last being a former Bronx borough president, congressman and deputy mayor. They are not pussycats; they are tough, savvy, aggressive lawyers and can look after themselves.

But it’s a lousy precedent to fill up the court dockets with suits by losers against the lawyers who represented the winners. Just because Donald hates losing—and who doesn’t?—shouldn’t give him the right to misuse the justice system. Donald, however, sometimes behaves as if the normal rules that apply to others don’t apply to him.

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