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The USFL's Trump Card
Robert H. Boyle
February 13, 1984
Builder Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals, has bid big bucks to make his league a winner
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February 13, 1984

The Usfl's Trump Card

Builder Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals, has bid big bucks to make his league a winner

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In 1974 the Trump family gave $35,000 to Carey's election campaign, in '78 another $66,500. In '74 Donald hired Louise Sunshine, Carey's chief fund-raiser, to work for him as a lobbyist. In '79, Wayne Barrett wrote a two-part series in The Village Voice on the Trumps as power brokers in which he quoted a representative of Penn Central as stating that Donald Trump had been picked to develop the bankrupt railroad's yards in mid-Manhattan because there was a need for a developer "who seemed best positioned in the New York market to get rezoning and government financing." The Penn Central man stressed that zoning is a "highly political activity in the city of New York."

Trump denies he's politically wired, but he has been criticized on other fronts as well. In 1973, the Department of Justice charged that the Trump Organization discriminated against blacks in renting apartments. Donald Trump denied the charge. He did say the Trump Organization wouldn't give leases to people on welfare "unless they have guaranteed income levels, because otherwise everyone starts leaving the building." Trump later signed an agreement to provide housing opportunities for minorities.

In 1980 he was denounced as an esthetic barbarian after he ordered the demolition of two Art Deco bas-reliefs on the facade of Bonwit Teller. The Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted the sculptures, but Trump, who was tearing down the building to make way for Trump Tower, said his experts deemed them worthless and that trying to save them for the museum would have cost $500,000 and endangered passersby below. "The funny, sad thing is that the publicity was responsible for sales of apartments in Trump Tower," Trump says. "The publicity caused interest in the building."

More recently, columnist Sydney Schanberg of The New York Times accused Trump of trying to get rid of tenants in a building on Central Park South that he wants to tear down, by stashing vagrants in vacant apartments. Trump says that the tenants are multimillionaires with rent-controlled leases and that he simply was seeking to help the homeless. "Why should I leave a building with 20 apartments empty when I can put in people who are freezing in the streets?" he asks. Philip Hess, the counsel for the City Planning Commission, views the offer somewhat differently. "This is a case study of how Donald operates," says Hess. "He made this proposal—and it may have been tongue in cheek—with a serious strain of public concern. That concern was one in 100 compared to Donald Trump's interest to serve his own self-interest in that building. From my experience, it is absolutely par for the course."

Even within the tight circle of Manhattan's developers Trump has his critics, and he is by no means the biggest developer in Manhattan. George Klein, who operates under the name Park Tower Realty, is bigger, but he doesn't court publicity. The same goes for the Reichmann family of Toronto, which goes by the corporate name of Olympia & York. What helps raise hackles is that Donald Trump gets all that publicity. "He's in love with himself," says one developer, who asked for anonymity. "He's always promoting Donald Trump. When he wants something, he doesn't permit anything to stand in his way. He doesn't have a regard for human feelings. I don't know a lot of his peers who have any warmth for him—there's a lot of broken china behind him—but they respect him. He does accomplish things. He's made Trump Tower the Number One building, the place to be, because of his ballyhoo. He's like a Steinbrenner. That's why he wound up with the USFL. He bought a team because he wants people to know who he is."

Hess says, "Donald Trump is an extremely gifted self-promoter. The most important thing about him is his absolutely unshakable confidence in himself. Donald does things in a very public way. He arranges things so they become events, not just an announcement."

With a smile Trump says, "My image is much different than I actually am. After people meet me, they get along with me. Before they meet me, it's negatives."

Peale says, "Anybody who succeeds at anything is likely to be the recipient of jealousy. Reporters who talk to me about Donald view him as a tough guy. That's not the case. I'm in the people business, and this man is a gentleman. Every time you try to compliment Donald, he diverts the praise to his father or mother. Donald is an honest genius who, in my humble judgment, will go down as one of the greatest builders of our era. Anything that Donald attempts, he's likely to succeed at."

Whatever praise or criticism comes Trump's way, it's important to note one thing: He has succeeded at every challenge he has set for himself. And no one knows this better than Trump, who readily recounts them all. Trump's recitation goes like this: "I've always undertaken jobs that people said couldn't be done. People said that the Grand Hyatt would never be built. Now they see it. They said that Trump Tower would never be built. Now they see it.

"In life you have people who promote and those who manage," Trump continues. "I'd like to think that I'm somebody with both qualities. Take the Cabbage Patch doll. Great promotion. Poor management. For the past 10 years people have seen the Jets and Giants. I think the New York-New Jersey area deserves a winner. The Generals have become hot. The season-ticket sales could well top 40,000, maybe 50,000. [As of Feb. 5 they stood at 29,000.] We've created a stir. There's going to be a lot of excitement."

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