Tag Archives | Sydney Schanberg

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.


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.


The Self-Importance of Being Donald


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.


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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