Sure, Donald Trump's vision of New York
is more foie gras and four-star than most, but if you owned
some of the city's most important real estate, were worth an
estimated $1.4 billion, and had one of the hottest shows on
TV, wouldn't yours be, too?
It's 30 minutes past our scheduled meeting time. I sit on a comfy
banquette in the waiting area of Donald Trump's office, high up in
his eponymous tower on a ritzy stretch of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.
His assistant has stopped by a couple times, telling me it won't be
much longer, apologizing for the fact that Trump is still in the
midst of a big meeting, with an important person, that's running
late. Is he in there with Mayor Bloomberg, strategizing for a
project that will transform the city? Or is he brainstorming with a
world-class architect on plans for a new addition to the Manhattan
skyline? Neither. Moments later, he emerges at the side of Jeff
Zucker, the president of NBC Entertainment, the network behind
57-year-old Trump's runaway hit show The Apprentice. The men
were sequestered, hammering out the fine points of a contract that
guarantees two more seasons of the brassy mogul telling quivering
Gen-Y coulda-beens, "You're fired!"
The Apprentice was an unlikely success in a career that is
full of audacious victories, all meticulously engineered by the
relentlessly hard-driving tycoon. Trump's rise to his lofty
position is rooted in the example set by his father, Fred, a
well-heeled developer of buildings in Brooklyn and Queens. Donald
graduated from Wharton business school and briefly worked on outer
borough projects, but in 1975, at 28, he started wheeling and
dealing in the world of Manhattan real estate, purchasing a piece
of land that was eventually developed into the Jacob Javits
Convention Center. As his reputation grew, gilt-edged structures
bearing the Trump name sprouted up all over town. Then came a
casino in Atlantic City, blue-chip resorts around the country,
private golf courses, and a modeling agency. There were two
high-profile marriages and divorces (and most recently, Trump's
engagement to model Melania Knauss), and a very public
restructuring of enormous debt after the Manhattan real-estate
market tanked in the early 1990s. Through it all, love him or hate
him, Trump has emerged richer, more powerful, and more public than
Another few minutes pass before I'm escorted into Trump's sprawling
office, where he's buffered by a big wooden desk and backdropped by
a breathtaking view of Central Park. Dressed in a dark-blue suit,
The Donald, at this moment, is the polar opposite of the
cold-blooded dismissal machine he plays on TV. Manning the
speakerphone and wielding a positive bit of press that has just run
in The New York Times, he's jocularly fielding
congratulatory calls from friends and doing a bit of business with
Danny Bennett, son of Tony, who's working on getting his dad a
place in one of Trump's buildings.
"I have not personally shown anyone an apartment in 10 years,"
Trump tells the singer's son. "But I love Tony, and I'm going to
show him an apartment with 13-foot ceilings and great light."
They discuss the unit's particulars, and then Trump reminds Bennett
that he and his dad have a standing invitation to visit Mar-a-Lago,
Trump's private resort in Palm Beach, Florida, for a weekend of
golf. "There's nothing hotter than Mar-a-Lago,"
Trump insists. "It's even hotter than The Apprentice."
"I don't think so," Bennett fires back. "That's not possible."
Trump hesitates for a beat, possibly wondering whether or not this
is a compliment. Then he agreeably responds, "Maybe not."