Donald Trump may be elected president thanks to receiving about 60 million votes, the Electoral College, and help from the Russians back in 2016. But in his hometown in New York City, he is almost universally loathed. The city may be a haven for liberals and elites but remember it’s the same place who elected Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Yet, Trump has been disliked in NYC for decades that Sesame Street parodied him as a sleazy villain since the late 1980s. Since he and his dad were indicted by the Justice for housing discrimination in the 1970s, the people of New York City have witnessed Trump concoct his dastardly and often at their expense. Over the years, Trump has preyed on them with false promises, exploited them, scammed them, and abused them for his own enrichment. He’s even inflamed racial tensions for his own benefit like his page long ad calling for the executions of the Central Park Five. At best, New Yorkers see him as a sleazy con artist who’s not to be trusted. At worst, they see him as a nightmare. If the people of New York City despise Trump, it’s not because the politics. It’s because they know exactly who he is and why he should’ve never become president.
At 35 years old, Donald Trump was the epitome of American business bravado. He had cut multi-million land deals, saved a blighted midtown Manhattan subway hub by overhauling a building near Grand Central Station that would become the Grand Hyatt New York, and was in the process of erecting the black-framed glass behemoth, the 68-story Trump Tower. After he destroyed the old Bonwit Teller Building including the Art Deco sculptures he promised not to. And with the labor of undocumented Polish workers who were paid less than $5 an hour and lived in squalid conditions.
In 1981, Donald Trump bought the Barbizon Plaza Hotel and a neighboring 14-story apartment building on prime real estate facing New York City’s Central Park. Addressed at 100 Central Park South he paid $13 million for, he had plans to tear down the buildings and replace them with luxury condos. It would be an audacious project and on one of New York City’s most desirable blocks. Two months later, he applied for a demolition permit to blow it up.
But there was one problem. In 60 of 100 Central Park South’s 80 apartments, rent-stabilized tenants already lived Central Park South building. Donald Trump describes renters as privileged, rich “yuppies” who unfairly benefitted from rent-control, claiming the rent he collected barely covered expenses. That’s why he installed cheaper lightbulbs to cut back. As he claimed, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the rich, it’s that they have a very low threshold for even the mildest discomfort.” To be fair, a low rent home a short walk away from Broadway theaters and Carnegie Hall is a pretty sweet deal. Dentist Dr. Michael Richman paid $700 a month for his apartment. Fashion designer Arnold Scaasi paid $985 for his mind-blowing, 6-bedroom with killer views of Central Park. B-movie actress and original Rockette Suzanne Blackmer paid $203.59 month for her 2-bedroom unit which wasn’t her primary residence. A 3-room apartment in the building overlooking the part could be as low as $436 a month. In New York City this was the stuff of legend.
In reality, while rich people did inhabit a share of these apartments, most of the tenants were either working people or middle class retirees living on fixed incomes and Social Security who’ve resided there for over 20 years. None epitomizes this like B-movie Suzanne Blackmer who’d many would think was living quite extravagantly. But that wasn’t the case for she was only living on $10,000 a year from Social Security, occasional acting gigs, and a pension from the Screen Actors Guild she earned by appearing in
over 60 films. Sure she may have had multiple residences, but she kept that apartment as a place to stay for her job.
Donald Trump often demonized the tenants as freeloading millionaires as a way to justify his harassment against the tenants at 100 Central Park South. It didn’t matter who they were. It was about getting the New York City public on his side. After all, New Yorkers would hate rich people getting very good deals on prime real estate given how expensive the city rents are. And it helped that a noted fashion designer, an architect, and a B-movie actress had units there for cheap rents. As Trump stated in The Art of the Deal, “Rent control is a disaster for all but the privileged minority who are protected by it. As much as any other single factor, rent control is responsible for the desperate housing crisis that has plagued NYC for the past 20 years.” Ironically, we should keep in mind that Trump has amassed his fortune thanks in large part to government handouts.
So in order to get his luxury condos, Donald Trump wanted to get them out. After applying for the demolition permit, he fired the building manager and replaced him with Citadel Management. According to The Art of the Deal, Trump claimed he chose a company that “specialized in relocating tenants.” While most landlords commonly try buying tenants out, Trump and Citadel Management tried to get the job done for free. At first, Citadel hired agents to constantly call tenants constantly, asking to show them other properties and convincing them that they’d have to move regardless. Most tenants refused for obvious reasons.
In the meantime, they did the bare minimum one could legally get away with in terms of upkeep. These included things like removing light covers, not cleaning up the lobby, ignoring repairs and maintenance, barring doormen from carrying up packages, and putting up aluminum foil on windows facing Central Park to give the building a run down appearance. Garbage filled the hallways and elevators as rats began to swarm. And tenants weren’t even allowed to erect a Christmas tree in the lobby. According to their 1982 lawsuit, tenants claimed that Donald Trump had cut their hot water and heat during New York’s freezing winters and stopped all building repairs. One said he allowed “a rodent infestation of the premises.” Another stated he imposed burdensome new rules in an attempt to force them out. However, building superintendent Anthony Ramirez, swore in court that Trump’s building managers gave him explicit instructions. “They didn’t want any repairs done. No cleaning. No accepting of packages.” As a result of the lack of maintenance, fashion designer Arnold Scaasi’s luxurious apartment was plagued by water leaks. One imperiled his art collection that included a 1926 Picasso and works of art by Claud Monet. And he wasn’t the only one. A 10 month water leak in Apartment 14B got so nasty that 2 brothers who grew up there saw brown and white mushrooms sprouting from their bedroom carpet. One told CNN Money, “It felt like we were under attack. Trump did his best not to repair anything.” Yet, Donald Trump refused to do anything about it.
On one occasion, when Donald Trump’s new building manager reported a burglary, dentists with apartment offices were ordered to send patients to a garbage-filled service elevator. Dr. Michael Richman refused to comply, complaining in court documents that Trump “mounted a campaign of harassment.” He then added, “Mr. Trump is willing to resort to any device or tactic to drive out the tenants from the building.” Trump’s lawyers fought back, questioning whether the dentist’s office even qualified for rent control.
On New Year’s Eve, several tenants received “lease violation” warning letters. The previous owners had permitted renters to knock down walls and renovate their apartment units at least 10 to 20 years prior. He reversed the exception and gave renters only 12 days to rebuild the walls or face eviction. Another time, Donald Trump sued tenant Andersen Clipper for not paying rent despite that he actually did. New York City Judge Jay Dankberg dismissed the case as “spurious and unnecessary,” as well as blasted Trump for trying to “harass” Clipper and forced the huckster to refund 5% of his rent. He then wrote, “To most landlords happiness is having tenants who pay the rent each month without prodding or litigation. However, [Trump] is apparently searching for double happiness.” According to his estranged wife Nancy who remembers the lawsuits and the refusal to fix things, “It was really a horrible experience.” She then described Trump as “insensitive, rude, and just a generally nasty man. I would never have considered him presidential.”
The renters weren’t going anywhere. After all, most of them were senior citizens on rent-control and with no other place to go. In response, they hired a particularly aggressive real estate lawyer named David Rozenholc and sued Donald Trump and his company, Park South Associates. New York state judges stepped in to put Trump’s lease violation notices on hold on at least 2 occasions. Since Rozenholc took advantage of a legal flaw to block Trump’s application to begin construction. He also sued Trump for harassing his clients and having management instruct the superintendent to spy on them. In return, Trump sued Rozenholc’s firm in a federal suit for racketeering and sought $105 million in damages, which was later dismissed since it was stupid.
In 1982 and 1983, Donald Trump put out newspaper advertisements offering to shelter homeless people offering them a dozen or so free apartments with “beautiful views.” But seeing how Trump often does seemingly charitable things on selfish motives, tenants saw the move as a ruthless attempt to drive them out. Trump denied it, telling the New York Times, “Some people think I’m just doing a number on the people in the building. 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.” He even offered to pay for nurses and medical supplies to treat the homeless. But New York’s Human Resources deputy administrator Robert Trobe told the Times that Trump’s offer did “not seem appropriate.” In end the city declined, questioning the wisdom of moving homeless people into a building headed for demolition. Though not without a refugee charity suggesting he house Polish refugees which Trump balked at saying his offer was only for those “live in America now, not refugees.”
Alleged spying took place, too. According to superintendent Anthony Ramirez, Donald Trump’s building manager told him monitor, “the personal habits of the tenants” and “keep a list on the tenants’ activities.” While Ramirez defend Trump on maintenance issues, spying went too far. He told the manager, “Sir, I have too many things on my conscience at this late stage in life, and I don’t need anymore headaches. I’m here to do my job and to do repairs to the building.” Apparently, Trump wanted to spy on the tenants in an attempt to dig dirt on them to use as blackmail or get them evicted. Trump denied this in a sworn 1985 affidavit. First, he claimed he didn’t directly run building owner Park South Associates (despite that corporate documents show he owned 60% of the company and was the only listed officer). Second, he swore he kept the building in tip-top shape with a previous New York housing agency inspection to back it up, finding that “all public areas were clean.”
However, the same state agency, the New York’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal went after Donald Trump, too. They sued, charging him of harassing tenants after the tenants sent a barrage of complaints alleging harassment, “drastic decreases in essential services,” and “persistent delay in repairing defective conditions with life-threatening potential.” Several even went on a rent strike. The New York City filed a similar suit months later, mentioning daily harassment, “wrongful acts and
omissions”, bogus nonpayment notices, and utilities that were turned off, by Trump’s agents. The city lost the injunction in September 1985 with the state Supreme Court justice stating, The danger of irreparable harm to the tenants seems to be minimal now that the challenged activities of the defendants are under the scrutiny of the various departments of the City of New York.
Yet, there was a glimmer of peace in 1985. According to court documents, Donald Trump and the tenants’ association leader discussed a potential deal. The renters planned to team up and buy the building for $15 million to free themselves from their dreaded landlord. You’d think Trump would accept this deal and everyone would live happily ever after. But no. Instead, he used that opportunity to accuse the tenants shady behavior like using harassment lawsuits to cover their real motivations. As his attorneys claimed, tenants were “waging a ceaseless guerrilla-type war… to coerce a bargain sale of the building,” He then sued them for $150 million, escalating the legal battle. In a 1985 New York Times editorial, Sydney Schanberg called Trump a “slumlord.” Trump’s lawyers responded in an op-ed attacking Schanberg, Rozenholc, New York City, and called it a “political maneuver in a mayoral election year.”
By 1986, Trump had spent over $1 million fighting the tenants and only $160,000 on repairs. Thankfully, he finally settled with the tenants’ association that year. He then cut his attorneys a $550,000 check and agreed to let the housing agency monitor repairs for 5 years. The tenants could stay in their apartments paying their preexisting rents. As Tony Schwartz detailed in a 1985 New York Times article, “how a bunch of rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants in an old building… have managed to do what city agencies, courts, colleagues, competitors, and the National Football League have never been able to do: successfully stand in the way of something Donald Trump wants.” He described Trump as “fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling and bumbling.”
However, the harassment still didn’t stop. Donald Trump may have gave up demolition, but he decided to renovate and later convert the building into condos instead. Elderly couple Alvin and Catalina Meyer, the wife plagued with emphysema and dying of cancer. So it was a particularly rude awakening when Trump’s construction workers woke Catalina up at 7 a.m. by drilling holes in the ceiling above her bed. The construction crew also set up a workstation in the apartment next door. Mrs. Meyer complained about the dust in the air. According to court papers, she claimed, “I am a very sick woman battling for my life. I have begged for reasonableness. The landlord will not be reasonable.” After nearly a decade of nonstop fighting, tenants started turning on one another. Trump told them he couldn’t fix the building’s heating system because Mrs. Meyer didn’t give construction workers access to their apartment. Fellow tenants told Meyer to back down while her lawsuit fizzled out when her own attorney left her.
The fighting died down in the 1990s, only to pop up again in 2000 when 72-year-old Carmel Rheingold sued Donald Trump in a New York State court for overcharging her $40,000 in rent over 4 years. He paid that money back. In 1998, Trump struck a deal with the building’s remaining inhabitants allowing them to either buy their apartments at a markdown or keep renting without further pressure to leave.
In the end, no judge ever ruled that tenants were being harassed. After all, Donald Trump settled but he didn’t get his way. The building remains in place to this day. According to city records, Trump’s company owns 18 units and his son Eric has an apartment on the top floor. At least 2 renters actually bought their apartments. But most died or moved away. Nonetheless, as of 2016, there are still tenants who still pay rent-control rates. Meanwhile the 106 Central Park South next door offers a glimpse of what Trump would’ve built at 100 Central Park South if he had the chance: largely luxury developments sitting mostly vacant accruing value for their super wealthy owners.
Donald Trump’s dispute with the tenants of 100 Central Park South remains a defining moment that shows his character in the minds of many New Yorkers. As New York journalist and author of Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, Wayne Barrett told CNN Money, “This was a concrete choice he made, knowing he would disrupt the lives of many middle income, elderly people. He has absolutely no excuse.” In 1987, Suzanne Blackmer said of Trump, “He has such an ego. He wants to be Jesus. He wants to be Hitler. He wants to be the most powerful thing in the world.”
Looking back, you can see Trump waging a different sort of campaign but with many of the same tactics he deployed during the 2016 campaign and his presidency like the threats, theatrics, and penchant for hyperbole. David Rozenholc said of Trump in 2016, “He knows how to negotiate, he knows how to use leverage and he’s very perceptive about his opponent’s vulnerabilities. It didn’t work against me, but when you deal with Putin and Iran, these could be useful qualities.” In The Art of the Deal, Trump acknowledged that he deliberately tried driving out tenants, but claimed most of them were exploiting undeserved government subsidies. He recalled getting rid of free telephone in the building’s lobby which he claimed tenants were using, “to call their friends in Gstaad and St. Moritz.” Yet, tenant Madelyn Rubenstein and 2 other residents at the time could only remember a pay phone in the building. Nor has Trump admitted defeat as he told The New York Times, “It was a long battle, but it was a successful battle. As usual, I came out on top.” Some may think that Trump’s slumlord past has little to do with his presidency, but the episode reveals Trump’s character as a man who sees dollars and cents over people’s lives. While his callous attitude has made him a marketplace success drawing fans from all walks of life, he’s profoundly unsuited for a very humanistic job of holding the American people’s best interests.
But more importantly, Donald Trump’s clash with the 100 Central Park South tenants shows that he’s not invincible. And he can be stopped. The rent-controlled tenants at 100 Central Park South fought hard to keep their homes for years and won. They hired attorneys. They took their cause to the media. They went on rent strikes. They applied pressure to state institutions into taking action. In the end, Trump had give up his plans to demolish the building and settle with them. If we band together in solidarity and resist Trump’s monstrous presidency and his unpopular, repressive policies. We may not be able to remove him from office, but we don’t have to let him get his way. In the name of freedom and democracy, let us all unite as Americans and stop this unrespectable man. once and for all.