Tag Archives | Ed Koch

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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Here’s a Chance to Be the City’s Hero, Trump

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, March 10, 1987

Over the years, I have written a number of columns critical of Donald Trump — for his harassment of tenants, for his self-promotion, for his fibbing, for his glitz and hype, for his grandiosity and for his expressions of concern about the homeless while doing nothing to help them.

I have tweaked him, cajoled him, satirized him and just flat-out berated him. And still he doesn’t seem interested in using his considerable talents on behalf of the homeless or in amelioration of any of the other social problems that he says trouble him. So now it’s time to challenge him.

I say let’s dare Donald Trump — real estate developer, impresario of tall buildings and taller publicity — to be as successful at helping the city as he has been at helping himself. And I want to make clear at the start that this column is not written tongue in cheek or as a putdown.

Virtually everyone — not just Donald Trump — says that he’s a world-class deal-maker. There are those who point out, with some justification, that he has engineered a very large number of headlines out of only a small number of major projects, but even these non-cheerleaders acknowledge that he is someone who can put big things together and bring them to completion.

Just take a look at your favorite newspaper or television station on any given week. There’s Donald Trump announcing something, winning something, being asked his opinion on something.

Last Thursday night, for example, he appeared on national television in the miniseries, “I’ll Take Manhattan,” playing himself and helping out poor little Valerie Bertinelli (who needed some cash in a hurry) by buying back her apartment in Trump Tower for $6 million. Later that evening, he appeared on “Nightline” giving his thoughts on what it will take to put the Reagan presidency back together again. (He said the president had to “be very assertive, be very strong, be very open.”)

Yesterday, he bought another gambling casino in Atlantic City, Resorts International, to add to the two he already has there, Trump’s Castle and Trump Plaza. The price tag was $79 million, but that was no problem. He had the money virtually hanging around — because he had made clear, swift stock profits of about $70 million in two recent takeover attempts aimed at other casino companies in Atlantic City.

And when he’s not making money on real estate of casino deals, he’s sponsoring a parade for the Stars and Stripes yachting crew who regained the America’s Cup trophy this year from Australia. Or he’s being mentioned as a potential political candidate or as a kingmaker for another candidate. Or he’s upstaging Mayor Edward Koch — by taking over the botched Wollman skating rink project and restoring in a few months this ice arena in Central Park that the city had floundered for six years at a waste of $12 million.

That’s the way it’s done, Ed, said the 40-year-old builder to the mayor, who did not take kindly to having his place in front of the TV cameras usurped.

Thereupon has followed a sniping war between Koch and Trump, with the developer saying he could run this or that city protect better and the mayor answering first with critical personal jabs and then, interestingly, by inviting Trump to prove his stuff by building housing for homeless people. 

“Donald,” the mayor said rhetorically at a forum, “right now I’m giving you an offer: Build us housing — residential or interim — for the homeless. Why don’t you come in, Donald, and show us how good you are.”

Donald Trump’s piqued response was designed as an offer the mayor had to refuse. Trump said: “When Ed Koch admits he is unable to build housing for the homeless, when he totally admits, when he totally concedes his inability to do this, then I’ll be glad to get involved.”

What you have here is the sound of two huge egos crashing into each other. The sour sound of stalemate.

But the idea is a terrific one. Donald Trump could step in, build the housing for the homeless or the apartments for low-income working people that other developers say can’t be built because of present costs — and he would walk away a hero. For he not only would have delivered a boon to the city but in the same stroke would have polished his reputation for all time.

The man who made his name by brashly and boastfully erecting towers to house the super-rich would have produced a breakthrough for the homeless and the working poor. It would confound his most tenacious critics.

Better still, if Trump were to do this, lead the way, the other master builders in this town — Zeckendorf, Macklowe, Silverstein, Kalikow, Tishman, Lefrak et al — would have a very hard time hanging back. They would have to either duplicate his effort or admit he is better than they are.

So, Donald Trump, that’s about it. We know you’re not really interesting in getting into the mess and hassle of low-income housing. There’s no profit, no glamour.

But what a coup it would be — for you and for the rest of us.

 

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It Takes a Big Man to Make Big Promises

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, September 11, 1987

Every time you look up, there he is — the world’s most successful public relations man. He’s in Moscow trying to talk the Communists into luxury-hotel capitalism. He has become the gambling king of the East Coast and is now reaching for a casino in Australia. He says he is John Cardinal O’Connor’s adviser on real estate, and according to one published account, gave the cardinal as a character reference on his application for a Nevada gaming license. He has issued a kind of press-release foreign policy, and a Republican operative in New Hampshire is trying to draft him for presidency.

That’s not even the quarter of it. He recently bought his own private Boeing 727 with two bedrooms and a sauna, after which he commissioned the world’s longest limousine. He continually makes big rolls on the stock market, manipulating certain prices higher, at which point he sells for impressive profits. For all his wealth, he manages to get big tax abatements on his luxury apartment projects in New York City. He feuds with the mayor and calls him a moron and worse. His autobiography, “Trump by Trump,” is due out this winter. And there’s got to be a sequel, because he’s only 41 years old. 

The part I like best about Donald Trump is his deep and abiding concern for the homeless and the poor. He never misses an opportunity to tell us — in print, on radio and on television — how every upset he is about the working-class people who can’t afford decent apartments at the going rates and about those who end up completely shelterless, living on the streets. It’s terrible, he says, as he dedicates his latest condominium tower for the moneyed, with his name in giant letters on it. 

And even last week, when he purchased full page ads in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and The Boston Globe calling for more “backbone” in America’s foreign policy, he took care to include an expression of his pain over the plight of the troubled among us. He said we ought to stop carrying wealthy nations like Japan and Saudi Arabia on our backs and instead make them pay us for defending them militarily in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. Then we could take these billions of dollars and use them to “help our farmers, our sick, our homeless.”

It cane as no surprise that Mayor Edward Koch, another public-relations virtuoso and thus a rival of Donald Trump’s for the world title, sneered at the foreign-policy ads and said that as a politics, Trump was “a flop” and “a schoolboy.” Trump responded by calling Koch a “jerk” and “a loser who will go down as the worst mayor in the history of the city.”

They’ve gone through this routine before, so it’s quite polished by now. In their last go-around, which had something to do with Trump’s grab for big tax abatements, the mayor called him “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy” and Trump purred back with “moron.” It’s not always easy to understand their splitting matches, given that they’re so much alike in their religion: Mirror Worship. Not only that, but Koch is just as verbal a champion of the downtrodden as is Trump — so that’s something else they have in common.

Nonetheless, yesterday brought a new chapter in the sandbox war. Trump, smarting over Koch’s barbs about his international views, volunteered some insults about Koch’s plans to visit Nicaragua as head of a fact-finding group. “How can our idiot mayor go to Nicaragua,” Trump asked, “when he can’t even run New York City? The man is totally incompetent…” and more of the same.

The only thing Trump left out this time (he must have been so overwrought he forgot) was a sentence about poor people.

After he got through reading his anti-Koch remarks to a New York Newsday reporter, he said, “I know you guys like this kind of stuff.” He’s right. That’s what makes him the master of public relations that he is.

He can deny all he wants any designs on the White House, but Trump has the kind of instincts that are perfect for the age we live in — the age of stage smoke and magic mirrors and imagery. He looks out and sees public-relations mayors and public-relations senators and a public-relations president. In short, he sees the kind of men we admire and elect these days and he naturally asks: Why not me?

For example, he offered us a couple of years ago his belief that he could do a better job at negotiating arms control with the Soviet Union than “the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past.” Blowing high-grade smoke, he added: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway.”

When Trump bought Resorts International’s casino and extensive properties in Atlantic City earlier this year, he said he felt a sense of social responsibility to the slum-ridden New Jersey casino city and was therefore going to build housing there for families with small pocketbooks. “With the vast land holdings we now have, we want to create some moderate and low-income housing on a private basis,” Trump said. “So far, nobody has been able to do it, but we have an opportunity now and we are making a commitment to do it.”

That was on March 19. On July 23, he amended his pledge. He said that Resorts had big financial pressures and “must straighten out its affairs” first. This meant, he said, that until he completes the costly Taj Mahal — a new casino that he has under construction, which will be the world’s largest — the low-income housing will have to wait.

The March commitment got substantial news coverage; the July pullback was hardly noticed.

In an age where smoke is everything, Donald Trump can blow it with the best of them.

 

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