Tag Archives | Sydney H. Schanberg

Donald Humbug

Lobby of 100 Central Park South where owner Donald Trump harassed tenants - 100centralparks via Beyond the Killing Fields

Entrance to Donald Trump’s 100 Central Park South.

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.


Trump’s Phony Offer to the Homeless

Donald Trump with the late Andy Warhol at a polo match in NY, Nov 4, 1983. Photo: Mario Suriani/AP via NYDN - Beyond the Killing Fields

A young Donald Trump with the late Andy Warhol at a polo match in NY, Nov 4, 1983. Photo: Mario Suriani/AP

By Sydney H. Schanberg

Adapted from Op-Ed columns in The New York Times which appeared on June 4 and August 2, 1983

It was only a small item in the paper. And then a small follow-up item. They were unremarkable in size but they contained stunning news.

What these few paragraphs said was that Donald Trump — master builder, real estate impresario, accused by many of caring only about glitter and money — had offered to house some of this city’s downtrodden homeless in a building he owns on posh Central Park South where he has 14 empty apartments.

The city government reacted suspiciously to his offer. These misguided officials believed — heaven forfend — that Young Trump’s purpose was Machiavellian. Endowed with distrustful natures, they thought he wanted to install the down-and-outers at 100 Central Park South (across from the St. Moritz Hotel, full views of Central Park) for the sole purpose of driving out the rest of the tenants so he could demolish the building and put up another Trump pyramid.

Donald Trump acknowledges that he does indeed want to get the present tenants out in order to put up a new luxury building, but he insists that’s not why he’s offering shelter for the homeless.

“Some people think I must doing a number on the people in the building,” Mr. Trump told me. “That’s not true. I just want to help with the homeless problem. It’ll take two or three years to get everybody out, and in the meantime I’ll have more and more vacant apartments for the indigent.”

The city’s response came from Robert Trobe, a deputy administrator at the Human Resources Administration. He wrote to Mr. Trump: “While we greatly appreciate your offer, it does not seem appropriate to house clients in a building slated for demolition.”

Mr. Trobe was more candid in a later interview: “In light of the temporary nature of his proposal and his interest in moving out some other people, I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling and therefore am not pursuing it.”

When Trump initially made his offer, he mentioned only that the free apartments would have heat, hot water and “beautiful views.” Officialdom never gave him a chance to elaborate.

Now, he says, “I’ll also pay for nurses. And I’ll pay for any medical supplies that are needed.” It’s enough to sweep you off your feet. But the city, Scrooge-like, says nothing doing.

Young Trump says the building in its present status, because its apartments are rent-controlled or rent-stabilized, is being misused by “people of great wealth” who are paying minuscule rents for “the best location in the city.” “I have multimillionaires living in rent-controlled apartments.”

The building, says Trump, is a symbol of the bizarre anomalies imposed on the city’s critical housing supply by the rent-regulation system. He contends that if we could abolish the system, at least for the plutocracy, and charge fair market rents to all those with a net worth of over $1 million, buildings throughout Manhattan would produce significantly higher tax revenues for the government— and instead of pinched city budgets, we would have bulging surpluses. “We’d have money for cleaning our streets,” he promised. “Money for more cops. The city would be healthier.” 

Before we allow ourselves to rejoice, however, there seem to be several nagging problems.
While some of the tenants in the 15-story building are quite rich, many are elderly people living on fixed incomes, such as Social Security, who have made their homes there for 20 years or more.

Although he is right that the building-as-is produces little if any profit and generates only a modest property tax check annually for the city, Mr. Trump knew all that when he bought the place. He didn’t mind because he thought he could empty it swiftly and erect a big profit-maker in its place.

His several court suits to get tenants out have so far failed — one judge suggested that his case was frivolous — and the tenants have accused him in turn of harassment and cutting of the building’s services.

And finally, if this young P.T. Barnum of real estate is so concerned about our pinched city budgets, why is he then suing the city for a $20 million tax abatement for the Trump Tower, a Fifth Avenue building on which he has already turned a profit of over $100 million?

While other landlords — just the bad apples, of course — bring in goods and dogs and arsonists to drive out tenants, Donald Trump is only bringing in derelicts. “I am sincere, he says. “I just want to help  get some of these people off the streets.”

While the city will always need brash and hustling developers, his proposal was obscenely condescending to the homeless, using them as pawns without feelings, callous to the tenants and devious to the city agency for the homeless, which said no thanks instantly.

But then, Charles Sternberg, executive director of the International Rescue Committee — a laudable organization that since 1933 has been helping refugees settle and find jobs in this country — wrote me a letter asking if I thought Mr. Trump would offer the same free apartments to Polish exiles from the solidarity movement who are seeking a haven in the U.S.

The Trump offer was perfect for them since they need only temporary housing to give them time to find permanent apartments. Moreover, none of the suspicions justifiably raised about placing the homeless in these apartments could attach to the Polish refugees. 

I suggested to Mr. Sternberg that he write directly to Mr. Trump. His plea to the developer spoke about the “generous offer” toward the homeless and “about a problem we are facing with regard to Polish refugees who are now arriving in New York and for whom we are looking rather desperately for affordable housing.”

Mr. Sternberg’s letter went on: “They are homeless in the sense that as newcomers they have never had a home in the United States. And they are quite desirable tenants, having been exiled from their native country for their active participation in the Solidarnosc struggle…”

No response came, so after two weeks, someone from the International Rescue Committee called the Trump office, spoke with an assistant and “was told that our suggestion was not really what (Mr. Trump) had in mind.” The assistant said they would “get back” to the I.R.C.

When there was still no word five weeks after the initial appeal, Mr. Sternberg wrote a second letter to Trump. In it, he talked about the growing number of Poles being released from detention on condition they leave Poland and noted that the housing shortage here was not limited to Polish refugees. The I.R.C. has been helping thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and others. “Your readiness to assist us,” Mr. Sternberg wrote,” “would…serve as an example. Impressed with the spirit of your initial offer, I thought of you as the initiator of a trend which would be of major humanitarian significance in a city which has never been oblivious of the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.” 

We called the Trump office to find out the reason for his coolness to this idea. A secretary explained: “That wasn’t the intention of our offer. We were talking about people who live in America now — not refugees. I don’t think this is something he [Trump] would consider.”

Let’s all urge him to reconsider. Otherwise, some people around town are going to start calling him a phony. Unless the Trumps are direct descendents of the Onondagas or the Sioux, their ancestors must have arrived in America in need of a home.

Just when did Donald become selectively xenophobic? He has no objection to foreigners buying multimillion-dollar condominiums in his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Now’s his chance to prove that he was sincere the first time, and that he wasn’t just trying to scare his tenants out of his Central Park South building — for profit only.


The Dark Side of the ‘Lucky Guy’

On June 9, Broadway’s 67th annual Tony awards will be announced and celebrated. One of the lead actor nominees is Tom Hanks, for “Lucky Guy,” a tale of the life of the late Mike McAlary, a tabloid columnist who became known in New York as a hard-charging crime and police reporter who got to major police and crime stories before his newspaper competitors. He was bold and flashy and won a Pulitzer prize in 1997. He died in 1998 from colon cancer.

But in 1994, he made a mockery of journalism by writing three columns about a woman who was raped in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. He got some bad information from police sources and rushed into print saying the woman was a “hoaxer” who was not raped or attacked in any way but made up the story to draw attention to her concerns about the treatments of gays and lesbians. When the police medical report confirmed she had been raped, finding semen inside her body and on her clothes, McAlary refused to accept the findings. What they found, he said in one of his three columns, was “at best, saliva.” Mc Alary never sought to interview the woman and he never apologized to her.  That was heinous journalism. The woman sued him for libel.

The woman’s attorney, Martin Garbus, went to see the play and wrote a piece worth reading for The New York Times entitled The Damage Done by a ‘Lucky Guy.

I wrote three columns for Newsday in 1994 and 95 about the facts of the case, the unlucky victim, and the trial that exposed the dark side of tabloid journalism as practiced by Broadway’s “Lucky Guy”:

Tangled Webs Woven with Personal Ties

Fighting Her Accusers and the ‘Demons’

A Novel Take on Responsible Reporting


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