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.