Trump Vs. Nadler: Reviving a New York Street Fight

April 3, 2019 by Dan McCue
New York City skyline. (Photo via Pixabay)

The president’s expression turned sour. Standing alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Tuesday afternoon, Donald Trump considered the reporter’s question for a fleeting moment and then began launching broadsides.

He’d been asked about House Judiciary Committee’s scheduled vote Wednesday morning to authorize Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to subpoena the Justice Department to compel the release of the unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report.

If the vote takes place as expected, the reporter asked, would the White House fight the subpoenas?

“I think it’s ridiculous,” President Trump began. “We went through two years of the Mueller investigation.  We have — I mean, not only that. You read the wording. It was proven. Who could go through that and get wording where it was no collusion, no nothing?”

“These are just Democrats that want to try and demean this country, and it shouldn’t be allowed” the president continued, pointing out that Attorney General William Barr had cleared him of any attempt to obstruct justice.

He then took personal aim at Representative Nadler, “Who … has been fighting me for half my life, in Manhattan, and I was very successful.

“Nadler has been fighting me for years and years in Manhattan — not successfully,” Trump added.

As is often the case, however, the true history of the give and take between the men and the president’s version of it, didn’t exactly align.

The often bitter battle between the two men extends back to the early 1990s, and revolved for years around Trump’s plan to redevelop a large industrial rail yard on New York City’s Upper West Side.

The Penn Central Transportation Company, which owned the site stretching from 59th to 72nd Street in Manhattan, declared bankruptcy in June 1970. Four years later, Trump optioned the land for $10 million.

At the time the firm selling Penn Central’s assets told the Village Voice it sold Trump the option because the well-known real estate developer “seemed best positioned” to get the land rezoned and to secure the massive infusion of government money that would be needed to bring the redevelopment of the site to fruition.

Trump initially proposed building 20,000 to 30,000 apartments on the site, a plan that was opposed by Manhattan Community Board 7, which represented the neighborhood nearest the rail yard.

He responded by downsizing his plan, but it went nowhere after public financing for the project materialized.

But Trump was undeterred. In 1985, he proposed building a new, mixed-use development on the site, which he called Television City. The centerpiece of the project was to be a new headquarters for NBC, which was interested in moving to the site from Rockefeller Center.

The project, as envisioned by Trump, would also include 7,600 apartments, a hotel and the largest shopping mall on the East Coast.

This time, however, Trump would get into an ugly squabble with then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

Koch, who rarely hid his personal dislike of Trump, denied the developer the city tax breaks he was seeking and instead offered them directly to NBC, saying the network could decided where it wanted to locate its studios.

With that, Trump exploded.

Over the course of a series of public exchanges, Trump called Koch “a horrible manager” and demanded the mayor resign.

Koch loved it.

”If Donald Trump is squealing like a stuck pig,” he said, ”I must have done something right.”

In 1987, NBC decided to stay put and continue broadcasting from 30 Rockefeller Center.

Watching all this transpire was a young state assemblyman from the Upper West Side, Jerry Nadler.

Trump again downsized his proposal, renaming it Trump City, and when this plan didn’t fly, he elicited the support of six local civic organizations based on promises area residents would enjoy unimpeded access to the Hudson River.

Together, they formed the Riverside South Planning Corporation to oversee the design of a 16-building project that was to stretch from 59th to 72d Street.

Trump agreed to remove the proposed shopping mall from his plan and expand the existing Riverside Park on the site. In exchange, and to enhance the value of his now mostly residential development, Trump said he wanted the elevated West Side Highway that coursed through the area and had been closed in the early 1970s due to neglect to be move eastward and lowered to grade and buried.

A new Riverside Boulevard would curve above the relocated highway, with the park sloping down toward the river.

It was at this point that Nadler, who was elected to the House in 1992, entered the picture and became, according to the New York Times, one of the project’s “strongest foes.”

Manhattan Community Board 7, which had successfully blocked Trump’s plans earlier, realized that the proposal put forward by Trump and civic groups could not be turned down using the board’s long-standing criteria.

At Nadler’s urging,  the board simply changed its criteria.

Once again apparently stymied, Trump soldiered on. He reduced the overall size of the project, promised to pay for the new, 22-acre public park that would extend to the river’s edge. But by now, the city was in the midst of fiscal crisis, and Trump’s lenders were growing restive over the repeated delays.

To solve his financial problems, Trump brought in a group of Chinese and Hong Kong investors, who reportedly bought a $300 million mortgage on the land for just $82 million. At the time, they hoped construction would begin in 1995.

Representative Nadler had other ideas.

The Trump plan still called for pushing the West Side Highway several hundred yards to the east and lowering it to below ground level. The problem was, state and federal officials had decided in 1991 that the elevated highway was in such bad shape that they committed $72 million to refurbishing it and the newly restored structure had an estimated life of at least 35 years.

In light of this, Nadler and other local officials renewed their opposition to the Trump plan, saying it was stupid to rebuild a highway only to tear it down a few years later.

“They want us to take a brand-new, perfectly functional highway that we just built and they want us to demolish it and rebuild it just to help Mr. Trump’s project, and that clearly is just wrong,” Nadler said at the time.

He promptly sponsored a bill that successfully barred use of funds from the 1996 federal budget for the demolition project.

Nadler also successfully lobbied the Federal Housing Administration to deny the developers mortgage insurance on a $330 million debt on the property. The mortgage insurance would allow the builders to borrow money for construction at a lower interest rate.

About the same time, the administration of New York City and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, announced it also opposed the moving of the highway and said federal highway money could be put to better use.

And yet Trump declared victory.

“Jerry Nadler fell right into my trap,” Trump told the New York Times. “He helped my development.”

Richard Kahan, chairman of the Riverside South Planning Corporation, told the newspaper that moving the highway wasn’t Trump’s idea, but that of civic groups who wanted greater public access to the Hudson River waterfront.

If Nadler succeeded in killing the plan to move the highway, the only repercussion will be that “there will be a park with an elevated highway running through it,” Kahan said.

“The idea that this is Trump’s highway is the big lie that Jerry Nadler has been selling,” he added.

”The job is a much simpler one for me if we leave the highway in place,” Trump said. ”It’s not a highway issue. It’s a park issue.”

He also said the highway would not affect the view from his high-rise condominium project, adding that he is getting fabulous rents for the apartments.

”Jerry Nadler is my best friend, economically,” Trump said. ”He’s played right into my hands.”

Nadler replied that Trump’s response is belied by his efforts to get federal funds for the project.

”Congress has told Trump very consistently, ‘We are not going to let you spend money on this boondoggle,”’ Nadler said. ”What part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?”

Still Nadler was under no illusion that the project was dead. A year later construction finally began on the properties that would variously be known as Riverside South and Trump Place.

In 2005, Trump and a consortium of Hong Kong investors sold the stretch of riverfront land and three adjacent buildings on the Upper West Side to the Extell Development Corporation and the Carlyle Group for $1.8 billion.

In reporting the sale, the New York Times reported longtime Trump critics welcoming his departure.

“Even though they’re paying an exorbitant price in this overheated market, we hope the new owners will be more responsive to the community,” said Madeleine Polayes, a leader of the Coalition for a Livable West Side. “Can we get the name changed from Trump Place to something else?”

It would take another 13 years for Polayes to get her wish.

Not long after Trump was elected president, residents of the 46-story building known as Trump Place, demanded that his name be scrubbed from the facade.

The Trump Organization objected, saying that while it no longer owned the building, it did still hold the management contract for the building.

In May 2018, New York State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten ruled the residents of the building had the right to remove President Trump’s name from the building if enough of them approve of it.

In doing so Bransten said there was no basis to the Trump Organization’s claim that the building should carry the president’s name “in perpetuity.”

The following October, two-thirds of the building’s residents voted to remove the signage bearing Trump’s name.


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