By Sydney H. Schanberg
This first appeared as an Op-Ed column in The New York Times on February 7, 1984
Donald Trump is everywhere these days – putting together a pro football team with multi million-dollar contracts, hinting at stepping into the huge Lincoln West housing development, telling the Governor and Mayor where they ought to build the projected sports complex, talking about erecting the world’s tallest building. And, oh yes, he also spent some time trying to obstruct a group of his tenants from putting up a Christmas tree in their lobby.
It’s very hard to understand why young Donald — busy as he is making cosmic decisions — would bother himself with a matter this petty. But the mogul-statesman has become so upset at the tenants of 100 Central Park South — because they’re not too keen about his desire to throw them out, tear down the building and put up a bigger and glossier structure – that he has lapsed into tantrum and been behaving like a slumlord.
Ever since he bought the nice 15-story apartment house (across from the St. Moritz Hotel, views of Central Park) two and a half years ago, he has been bedeviling the tenants, with a view to eviction.
He brought specious lawsuits against some of them, and judges have thrown these out, charging him with ”bad faith,” ”harassment” and ”intimidation” — in one case ordering young Donald to pay the tenant’s legal fees. Also, he proposed putting some of the city’s homeless people into the dozen or so apartments he has already emptied in the building. The city smelled a scheme to use the derelicts to scare out the rest of the tenants, so it correctly declined the offer.
Then Young Donald’s bluff was called. A well-known refugee organization, the International Rescue Committee, asked him, since the homeless idea had been rejected, if he would instead take in Polish exiles from the Solidarity movement on a temporary basis. His office said no – the offer was only for ”people who live in America now, not refugees.”
Meanwhile, Donald was not treating his tenants who live in America very well. He hired a new company with a tough reputation, Citadel Management, to run the 100 Central Park South building. Services began to decline, repairs weren’t made. The luxury building turned shabby. He has tinned up the windows of vacant apartments that face Central Park, giving the facade a grotesque look. Young Donald says this is for security, but the back windows of the same apartments, easier to break into, are not tinned up. Moreover, under Citadel Management, the building’s security has been porous, with several burglaries – very rare before Trump ownership – in the last couple of years.
Which brings us to the Christmas tree. Young Donald and his agents had not allowed either a tree or any other decorations for the first two Christmases, but the tenants decided to try again last December.
They wrote a letter to Citadel asking permission to put a tree in the lobby – stressing that all costs would be assumed by the tenants. A sour letter came back, saying that tenant ”activities” had ”made it quite difficult for Management to feel that a relaxed, ‘holiday season spirit’ relationship exists at the building.” But Citadel said it would not block the project if the tenant spokesman, John Moore 3d, would sign a bizarre legal document in which he would have agreed, among other things, to have the decorations ”comply with applicable governmental regulations” and to take them down should any tenant complain that they ”infringe upon his or her religious beliefs.” This document never got signed because, fortuitously, Citadel’s maintenance employees in the building got some signals crossed and put up the tree while the negotiations were still in progress. Citadel’s front office fumed but could do nothing.
Young Donald keeps saying – as recently as two Sundays ago on television – that his attempts to get the tenants out are justified because the building is occupied by ”many multimillionaires” paying rents of $250 a month. Only a handful of the tenants can be described as rich; most are either average working people or elderly men and women on fixed incomes, such as Social Security, who have lived there many years. And although the rents are either rent-controlled or rent-stabilized, the average is several hundred dollars higher than $250. In any case, Young Donald knew all this when he eagerly bought the building in 1981.
”Were we multimillionaires,” one of the tenants wrote me recently, ”we might have moved by now, because ever since Donald Trump bought this building, we have been living under a state of siege.”
Yesterday he had his lawyers harassing the tenants again, bringing the rent-stabilized group before the city’s Conciliation and Appeals Board in another specious attempt to evict them – even though he knows that on April 1 this board’s duties will be taken over by the state and its proceedings in this case will be meaningless.
In an interview in this newspaper a month ago, Donald Trump said of his work and his style: ”You have to give quality. And I’ve always gone first class.”
What he’s doing at 100 Central Park South shows no class at all.