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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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