Tag Archives | Sydney H. Schanberg

Trump’s Latest Deal: Finagling Atlantic City

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, September 9, 1994

Donald Trump is cheating at cards again, appropriately in Atlantic City. He’s trying to fleece some of their property so he can expand his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.

And not for the first time, he has managed to stack the deck: He has found a way to get the local governmental agencies to do his dirty work for him. As chiseling schemes go, it’s a doozy.

Here’s how the scam is structured. Trump is trying to buy up a while block adjacent to Trump Plaza to put up new hotel rooms, a parking lot, limousine pickup area and the like. He wants to cash in on the business generated by a $254-million convention center scheduled to open in 1996 a short distance from the Plaza, one of the three casinos he runs in Atlantic City.

But instead of negotiating with the owners of the private parcels he needs on the block, he got the Atlantic City Planning Board and the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) to move in on the properties by edict. The planning board began issuing approvals for the project and CRDA started condemnation proceedings under the law of eminent domain.

CRDA’s rationale is that the casino expansion serves the community interest because it will support the new convention center. It’s not clear how Trump won the allegiance of these public officials — that will probably come out later, in some court proceeding, as often happens with Trump — but the result is a familiar one: Trump, the property shark and deal-maker is in line to get another freebie.

In short, the state (CRDA) plans to seize the private land at fire-sale prices, pay for it with taxpayer dollars and the hand it over to Trump for nothing, to profit from as he pleases.

Not surprisingly, two of the property owners facing condemnation have stood up to cry foul. One is Vera Coking, who has a small three-story house where she lives with her daughter, Barbara Torpey, under the shadow of Trump’s casino. The other protester is the Sabatini family, whose restaurant has sat for 30 years a little ways down the block on the prime corner of Columbia Place and Pacific Avenue.

Six years ago, the Sands casino company, which was then trying to develop the block, made an opening offer to the Sabatinis for $1.5 million. But that project died aborning. Now, though Atlantic City is bustling with development activity, CRDA says the property is worth no more than $700,000, setting that as its final figure.

CRDA’s appraiser reached this figure by comparing Sabatini’s restaurant to four other restaurants. The curious part about the comparison was that the four restaurants are all empty and out of business and none of them was in the busy casino district.

As for Vera Coking and her weatherbeaten house, CRDA set its price at $251,000. Penthouse’s Bob Guccione, another who tried to develop the block and failed, says he offered her $1 million. When she refused, he decided to build around her narrow lot and got the steel superstructure up before he pulled out. Now, several years later, CRDA says its condemnation price is $251,000. Coking’s lawyer says the property is worth $2 million.

Trump and his attorneys have tried to portray Coking, a widow, as a person who has put her personal gain above the interests of the city. Coking, responding, said: “There’s a lot of memories in here. I raised my kids in here. I’m not greedy. I just want a fair price.”

The Sabatinis are also pretty upset. “We’re not blocking progress,” said son Louis, 37, a doctor. “You can call it eminent domain and you can call it public good, but they’re trying to steal our property, and it’s rotten.”

“We’ve been good neighbors and good community members,” said his mother, Clare Sabatini. “We’ve been here for 30 years, in lean times as well as good ones. We made sacrifices to put four kids through college. All we want is a sensible offer.”

The Sabatinis and their own appraiser came in with a property value that was at least three times the $700,000 price set by CRDA.

When CRDA held a meeting last month on the condemnation decision, Trump’s cozy relationship with the government officials became quite clear. Instead of sitting in the public seats, he entered at CRDA’s end of the room and stood directly behind the board members, facing the audience. Trump and CRDA were one. 

Another tip-off: Under the law, it was supposed to be a public hearing with questions allowed from anyone, but when the attorneys for Coking and the Sabatinis tried to raise several issues, they were cut short and the meeting was quickly adjourned with a bang of the gavel.

There are still some innings to go, among them a review process to examine the legality of the condemnation and the fairness of the money offers. If dissatisfied with those results, a landowner can seek a jury trial to set the price on the property. Judging from the rigged deal we’ve seen so far, Coking and the Sabatinis may have to go all the way.

In civics class way back when, we were always taught that eminent domain could be invoked only for a public purpose. In Atlantic City, we are watching it being used to benefit a private person, Donald Trump. 

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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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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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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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