Tag Archives | Donald Trump

Strictly Beau Monde

By Sydney H. Schanberg

Originally published in the New York Times, December 18, 1982

The state’s highest court scolded the city government this week for having denied a tax abatement to the glass and steel creation of Donald Trump, master builder — the structure that he calls, interchangeably, the Trump Tower or ”the world’s most talked about address.”

The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the city had gone beyond the law and used arbitrary reasons in deciding that young Trump’s 68-story edifice at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street did not qualify for having $20 million written off its tax bill. The seven judges told the Koch administration to go back and think it over and do the right thing for ”the world’s most talked about address.”

Sad to report, however, the city is behaving mean-spiritedly and is now looking for new ways to thwart the great builder and hold on to the tax money for the support of patently less important addresses — such as the Men’s Shelter and Bellevue Hospital.

Don’t the Koch people have any sense of gratitude for the uplift this visionary is giving our town? Don’t they realize that we will all be basking in the renascent glow from the shiny people who are buying the 263 condominiums in the Trump Tower at prices ranging from an embarrassing $500,000 for the economy one-bedroom unit up to $10 million for the premiere penthouse triplex in the stars?

I think it’s best to let the building’s prospectus and purring brochures speak for themselves: ”Imagine a tall bronze tower of glass. Imagine life within such a tower. Elegant. Sophisticated. Strictly beau monde. ”It’s been fifty years at least since people could actually live at this address. They were Astors. And the Whitneys lived just around the corner. And the Vanderbilts across the street.

”You approach the residential entrance — an entrance totally inaccessible to the public — and your staff awaits your arrival. Your concierge gives you your messages. And you pass through the lobby.

”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-toceiling – New York at dusk. The sky is pink and gray. Thousands of tiny lights are snaking their way through Central Park. Bridges are becoming jeweled necklaces. ”Your diamond in the sky. It seems a fantasy. And you are home.

”Maid service, valet, laundering and dry cleaning, stenographers, interpreters, multilingual secretaries, Telex and other communications equipment, hairdressers, masseuses, limousines, helicopters, conference rooms — all at your service with a phone call to your concierge.

”If you can think of any amenity, any extravagance or nicety of life, any service we haven’t mentioned, then it probably hasn’t been invented yet.”

And can you believe it? The Mayor is trying to make life difficult for these people. Trying to cast a pall over their amenities. Trying to take away $20 million of their extravagances.

What kind of grinch would want to hassle that anonymous wage-earner who has purchased Triplex N for $10 million? Perched on the top three floors, Triplex N has (and this is but a partial list): ”five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, skylit garden/playroom, roof terrace, (interior) elevator serving all floors of the unit … unlike anything you’ve ever seen … wraparound views of Manhattan … sculptured staircases … sumptuous tubs … his and her bathing suites … worthy only of the world’s most talked about address.”

City Hall is trying to argue that the 1971 state law authorizing tax abatements for new residential construction was designed to stimulate the creation of low- and middle-income housing, not units that are ”unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” (The median rent in other buildings currently receiving such write-offs from the city is $465 a month. The ”carrying charge” alone on Triplex N is about $3,400 a month.) The court said there was nothing in the statute’s language that makes such a distinction.

The court is right — if we start discriminating against the rich, then who’ll be next? Donald Trump couldn’t agree more. He took all the risks, after all. He raised the $200 million to build the tower. Is he now to be penalized because the condominiums on the top 38 floors — which are in such sumptuous demand that he’s raised the prices four times since the sales office opened a year ago — will bring him $300 million (not to mention the revenue from the 18 retail and commercial floors)? What’s wrong with a reasonable profit?

What would the city do with young Trump’s $20 million, anyway? They’d just spend it on more cops and sanitation workers and subway repairmen. Who’s going to need cops and street sweepers and subway mechanics if young Trump keeps getting tax abatements and keeps building these swell apartments? Pretty soon, there’ll be so much housing that we’ll all be able to live strictly beau monde.

Now do you realize how important this issue is? Don’t drag your feet any longer — write to the Mayor immediately and tell him to lay off Donald Trump.


When Publicity-Mongers Seek Privacy

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, March 6, 1990

Having been away a while and out of touch, I’ve had a lot of catching up on the news to do.

When I departed for Asia last summer, the “Evil Empire” was still intact; now the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself are running toward free enterprise and away from state communism as fast as they can. South Africa, too, has been turned almost upside down, with Nelson Mandela finally freed and apartheid crumbling.

Here at home, the money world witnessed The Fall of the House of Drexel, but only after the elders of the junk-bond house parachuted safely to earth with self-awarded multimillion-dollar bonuses. In more serious belly-up news, major banks in the savings and loan community have been going under, the megabillion losses to be underwritten by the taxpayer (The CIA, as a siphoner of loans for covert activities, was apparently a player in this crash.)

In New York, other covert activities were uncovered, these perpetrated by U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, our peddler of influence extraordinaire, who after so many years of free rides seems now to be sinking under the weight of multiple investigations. And, yes, before I forget, Andy Rooney came back, some think with his genes watered down.

But by far the biggest news in this city that believes it defines America has been the Trump saga. The divorce of the century. Relentless hours of air time and thousands of column inches of print, and we’re only just beginning. New Yorkers know what’s important. The Trumps are us.

And beware of those who tell you they are neither following the tawdry tale nor talking about it at the dinner table. Their noses may be growing. The fascination is fairly universal. And it is definitely selling newspapers.

My bet for the most profitable headline was the banner in the New York Post on Feb. 16, which purported to be a quote from Marla Maples, the Other Woman. She was said to have enthused to her friends about Donald Trump in the following way: “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had.”

Which brings us to one of the few non-trivial issues generated by this hair-pulling contest: the question of whether the Trumps are entitled to the customary rights of privacy.

Of course, the customary rights in this country don’t extend very far any more, given the boom in the gossip industry. Even so, I have always argued, as with the Gary Hart episode, that the private lives of public figures are not the business of the press unless we can demonstrate that the personal activity has a clear bearing on the public performance. Part of this argument is that since the media have as much effect on public policy as do elected officials and other power wielders, do we in the press agree that our private lives are fair game for someone else’s scrutiny? 

My position hasn’t changed. So where does that put me on the Trump issue? Do Donald and Ivana — and Marla — come under the protection of the Schanberg rule? The answer is yes, but.

The problem in the Trump case is that Donald in particular but Ivana as well have conducted their lives via neon announcements to the world — by writing their names in the sky, so to speak. Nothing is built or purchased that is not immediately plastered with the family name — Trump Tower, Trump Castle (the casino), Trump Princess (the yacht), TrumpShuttle (the airline), Tour de Trump (the bicycle race) et cetera, et cetera. Press conferences are called to proclaim every deal, every prize-fight promotion, every new toy. Lots of climbers are tacky but none have been so determinedly public in their tackiness as the Trumps. They became the Royal Family of High Tack.

The Schanberg rule is not absolutist. It is very hard to argue in defense of the privacy of people who have invited us to worship their treasure, who have insisted that we photograph them at every turn, who have asked us into their many homes to gaze at the limits of ostentation to which they have pushed their decorators. When people shout “Look at us! Look at us!” for years on end, can they expect the world to stop looking just because something awkward or embarrassing happens in their personal lives?

Even in their break-up, the Trumps waged a public, not private, battle. Each hired shark lawyers skilled at manipulating the press, each sought out a gossip columnist of choice, each set in play their public-relations men to smash and trash the other. (It was Scanlon for Ivana and Rubenstein for Donald. As the PR dirt flew, it blurred and became indistinguishable, one side from the other. In my mind, a la Watergate, it became a single public-relations entity — the Scanstein team.)

Still, the press clearly went too far on several occasions (as with the “Best Sex” and other stories). No matter how outrageously public the Trumps have ever been, we, often with relish, stepped over that line of good taste that most of us are so fond of trumpeting as our ethic.

Donald complained bitterly that the coverage had been excessive and called it “sick.” He, of course, wanted it both ways — megacoverage when he was on one of his ego trips but press discretion and restraint when he found himself in distress. His double standard, however, does not excuse ours.



This Little Piggy Went Nyah-Nyah to the Moron

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, Jun 2, 1987

Just when it looked as though the garbage-without-a-country was going to be the only story to keep the press alive during the summer doldrums, along came The Mayor and The Mogul to deliver their gift to the hungry hyenas of the Fourth Estate. They gave us the multiple, continuous, floating mega-tantrum.

The Mogul, whose parents had named him Donald Trump, was rechristened by The Mayor as “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy.”  It’s not clear whether this came before or after The Mogul called The Mayor, who used to go by the moniker of Edward Koch, a “Moron.”

What a boon for the headline writers — “Mayor Moron Blasts Mogul Piggy.” It’s almost enough to restore one’s faith in the high-mindedness of our celebrities and in their selfless commitment to keeping us entertained.

We’ve seen hair-pulling by inflated personalities before, but this one is special — a pluperfect specimen. After all, it’s not often that two of the biggest hustlers, con men and self- promoters in town turn on each other in their sandbox and throw a conniption fit.

This town isn’t big enough for both of us, nyuh-nyahed Piggy the Mogul. “Koch is a disaster. He should resign from office. He can’t hack it anymore.”

Mayor Moron snarled back that if The Mogul “is squealing like a stuck pig, I must have done something right.” And then, to make sure everyone got his meaning about the swine epithet, he jeered: “Greedy, greedy, greedy.”

You’ve got to admit, this is mud-slinging at its best. I can’t wait for the next installment.

And there’s bound to be more. Because this particular chapter in the saga of The Mayor and The Mogul is not only about towering egos but towering bucks as well.

The Mogul, you see, wants to build a mini-city on 100 acres he owns along the Hudson River and the poor thing wants The Mayor to give him all sorts of subsidies to lure the National Broadcasting Co. to the site as the prime tenant, occupying nine of the 100 acres. NBC, it seems, looking ahead to when its leases expire at Rockefeller Center in the 1990s, is considering a move to New Jersey, where taxes and other costs are lower.

The Mayor said he will give tax abatements and other incentives to NBC to keep the communications giant in New York City, but he will not give these goodies to Piggy’s whole 100-acre project to help him amass a windfall profit. Piggy wants this handout, The Mayor says, because he is, well, greedy.

“Common sense,” said The Mayor, citing a trait rarely demonstrated before in his dealings with real estate developers, “does not allow me to give away the city’s treasure to Donald Trump.” This is what probably drove Donald to call him a Moron: for forgetting that he has been giving away the city’s treasury to builders for the past 10 years.

Mayor Moron didn’t stop at smearing The Mogul. He had an insult left over for New Jersey as well, as he explained why NBC should understand that being in Gotham, center of the entire world, was a premium all by itself. “People want Manhattan,” he said. “This is bedrock country. This is not mudflats.”

And besides, you don’t get spitting matches like this in New Jersey. 

While it’s true that The Moron was forgetful about his giveaway policy to developers — it seems to be the style of the ’80s to have memory losses about important things, as with the president’s arms sales and secret bank accounts for rebel armies — Piggy also seems to deliver a self-serving version of history when he listed The Mayor’s failures and said that he should therefore spare us further fiascos and fade into retirement.

For example, Piggy noted — shedding crocodile tears — that, under Koch, “the homeless are unnecessarily wandering the streets.” This is true — as far as it goes. But it fails to mention that the only thing that Piggy has done for the homeless, as their numbers have swelled, is to build more and more super-luxury apartments.

In one instance, when Piggy wanted to empty a building so he could convert it from middle class to regal class, he offered to house a few of the homeless temporarily in the building’s vacant apartments so as to scare out all the other tenants.

Trump and Koch have feuded before, but never as Piggy and Moron. Usually it’s been over who gets the credit for something and who gets to stand in front when the cameras start taking pictures. This time, it’s no different, except that it involves more money as well as a valid policy issue about how large the concessions to entrepreneurs should be to spur the city’s economy.

The problem, though, is that the behavior is that of little boys throwing tantrums because they can’t get everything their own way. It’s my bat and ball, so we’re playing by my rules. Who sez? I sez, what are you going to do about it? You’re a piggy. Yeah, well you’re a Moron.

No, they don’t get this kind of big-time entertainment in the mudflats on New Jersey. Think how dull their newspapers must be.


Well, Recessions Do Teach the Basics

By Sydney H. Schanberg

First published in Newsday, April 26, 1991

There’s nothing like a recession for teaching home truths — and for making some people behave oddly.

Donald Trump’s empire is sliding speedily into the maw of his creditor banks, and Donald says, with a smile on his Kewpie lips, that he’s never done better and everything’s going his way. That’s the nice thing about Donald — his realism.

The other nice thing is the comfort his downfall brings the rest of the suffering nation. He was the high roller, the world’s leading con man, and he got stung and stung big by the junk-bond scam. We little schnooks, we exist to be taken, so when the high priest of hustle gets skinned by the carnival barkers, we get to feel superior — or at least feel a little better about our schnookiness. 

For my part, it makes me experience a smidgen of empathy for Donald. I can almost see him as a human person, vulnerable and capable of being hurt. The only thing that gets in the way of this empathy attack is the manner in which Donald dresses.

No, I’m not talking about those stupendously ordinary red and yellow ties. It’s his jackets. He never takes them off. Think about it — have you ever seen him with even his arms exposed? He goes to Palm Beach, and the temperature is 90, and he keeps his jacket on. He goes to construction sites where men are stripped to their t-shirts and he nervously buttons his jacket tight — and puts something on, a hardhat.

I don’t want to psychoanalyze him, but clearly he’s trying to cover something up. Maybe that headline should have read: “Best Sex I Ever Had With a Fully Dressed Man.”

To get back to the recession, I’m convinced it had one primary cause — those junk bonds that Donald among so many others bought like shortcakes.

Every morning when you pick up your pager, you know there’ll be a story about another huge bank or insurance company going out of business because they loaded up on junk bonds.

As we know, Michael Milken was the chief sorcerer, a man with a bent bent. His story was that he had discovered the ultimate populist panacea. By creating this new category of high-risk, high-return instruments, he was going to crack open the closed fraternity of snooty bond brokers and make the bond market available to little people. In short, he wasn’t breaking laws, he was creating a new world economic order for all of us schnooks.

Sure. And now there are legions of schnooks around the country whose retirement annuities have gone into the sewer with the financial institutions that carried them and then invested the funds in the garbage bonds. Why didn’t somebody believe the label? Wall Street did, after all, describe them as “junk” bonds.

It’s hard to conceive that a handful of tricksters from a handful of financial houses — Drexel Burnham, Salomon Brothers, Merrill Lynch — brought on this whole slide. And of course, they didn’t — because for their scheme to succeed (and for the economy to collapse later), they needed thousands of accomplices around the country. Greed drove the engine, and greed — like the smell of sulfur — is never in short supply. Added to which is the fact that no one ever accused bankers as a community of being intelligent. 

So here we are now, watching businesses by the dozens go under and watching George Bush’s lips for any hint at all of when the cloud will lift — as if he really has any more of a clue than the rest of us schnooks.

At the center of the universe — New York City — where the top financial geniuses practice their alchemy, things are getting to the point where the homeless are being pushed into a lower category of government concern by the growing regiments of the unemployed.

Whole office buildings stand empty or nearly so, another demonstration of the genius-cum-greed syndrome. Brilliant developers rushed to throw their scrapers into the sky so as to capitalize on expiring government tax abatements, and now their creditors also soar in the sky, emitting vulture shrieks as they circle the new towers listening for death rattles.

I know it sounds naive to ask who suffers most in times like these, but the answer is so obvious and so necessary. Milken’s in jail for a few years, but nearly all the other schemers are free and clear, just waiting for their next chance to hypnotize us and skin us. The people on the jobless lines are the ones who’ve taken the biggest hit.

At a seminar I attended a few years ago, a leading New York developer described real estate as the highest-risk business in the country. He was then asked what the personal impact would be on him if, say, his latest project went bust. He seemed confused by the questions. “Well, my investors would lose their money,” he said. But what about you, the questioner persisted, what effect would this have on your everyday life? “Like I said,” he repeated, perplexed, “this Japanese group would lose their investment.”

It had never occurred to him that risk for ordinary people meant possible loss of a job or a decline in standard of living. His risk was for others to take. His limousines would always stay intact.

Yup, there’s nothing like a recession for dispensing some gut lessons in life.


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