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.