Trump says New York has ‘gone to hell’. What would life be like for him back in the Big Apple if he loses?

Oliver O'Connell
·14-min read
 (Getty)
(Getty)

If the most recent election polling is to be believed then it seems Donald Trump might be relocating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come January.

But as a host of New Yorkers told The Independent, the president may find a warmer welcome awaiting him in Mar-a-Lago rather than back in his home town.

Mr Trump’s relationship with New York has become increasingly fractious over his four years in the White House.

New York, one of the most diverse cities in the US, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 with the Democrat winning 75-88.5 per cent of the vote in four out of the five boroughs. (Mr Trump won Staten Island with 56 per cent of the vote.)

Since then he has warred with New York officials, lashing out on Twitter earlier this month to blame them for his hometown having “gone to hell”.

Mr Trump’s animosity and petulance as president have further hardened resentment and anger towards him in the Big Apple.

Protests began on day one of his term in office, with the turnout for the Women’s March 2017 estimated at 400,000 people. Large protests in the vicinity of Trump Tower have been a feature ever since, whether against the Muslim ban, and family separation at the southern border, or in support of Black Lives Matter.

In addition the city’s federal court, known as the “Sovereign” District of New York for its willingness to root out criminal activity regardless of DC politics, has and continues to run multiple investigations of Mr Trump and his associates. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, ex-personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon have all appeared on criminal charges in lower Manhattan.

The president had Assistant US Attorney Geoffrey Berman fired in June 2020 at a time when he was reportedly investigating Mr Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani,the former NY mayor, for alleged crimes relating to Ukraine.

In addition, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance have also been scrutinising the president, his companies, and taxes.

Mr Trump is trying to slash federal funding to the city by having the Department of Justice designate it as an “anarchist jurisdiction”, claiming that racial justice protests and unrest, and a surge in gun crime over summer 2020, showed that city officials were not in control.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described the move as an “illegal stunt” and the designation is now being fought in court with the city suing the administration calling the move “an act offensive to both the Constitution and common sense”.

At the final presidential debate last week, Mr Trump decried that his “wonderful” city was now a “ghost town” pointing the finger at an overly strict response to the pandemic. New York was an early Covid-19 hotspot in the spring — at the peak, there was an average of over 5,000 cases a day. The pandemic left almost 24,000 New Yorkers dead, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Look at what’s happened to New York, it’s a ghost town. It’s a ghost town,” Mr Trump said. “For so many years I loved it, it was vibrant. It’s dying, everyone is leaving New York.”

The comment was met with derision by New Yorkers, who have largely knuckled down and adapted to life in the pandemic with mask-wearing enforced and many businesses operating at least partially outdoors. This is the city that bounced back from bankruptcy in the 1970s, 9/11, the global financial crisis, and Hurricane Sandy.

Joy Behar, co-host of The View, tweeted: “New York is not your wonderful city. New Yorkers hate you.”

New York artist Christine Sloan Stoddard told The Independent: “I will never, ever welcome Donald Trump in my city. I hope he never returns.

“In an ideal world, New York City would banish him. He does not deserve our hospitality, our patronage, or our respect.”

Bryan Towey, an entrepreneur in his twenties from Manhattan, believes that Mr Trump would have been attacking New York even if he had remained a private citizen.

“New Yorkers already know Trump for his abrasive personality, so his attacks on New York are nothing new,” Mr Towey told The Independent.

“Most of us either like Trump or hate him, and I suspect most people will not have changed their minds when he returns. New Yorkers will treat him the same way they did before he left for the White House, and given that most of the city is liberal, the treatment will continue to be negative.”

Born on 14 June 1946, Trump was brought up in the Jamaica Estates neighbourhood of Queens by mother Mary and his real estate developer father, Fred. The product of a privileged life, he stepped into the family business and crossed the East River to Manhattan. By the 1980s he had become an icon of capitalism — though one of questionable repute regarding his business practices and acumen.

Donald Trump with his father FredNew York Daily News
Donald Trump with his father FredNew York Daily News

As Mr Trump hit out at New York during the final debate, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted that the city is “ashamed” that he is from Queens, noting that Mr Trump and his father racially-profiled building tenants in the 1980s in the borough.

Nevertheless, the Trump brand is still emblazoned on luxury apartment blocks across Midtown Manhattan, including his own residence at 725 Fifth Avenue, home to both the Trump Organisation and the Trump campaign offices. In 2016, Mr Trump only won a third of votes in the precinct in which he resides.

His palatial penthouse is in the heart of Midtown Manhattan’s typically bustling business and shopping district, a stone’s throw from the tourist magnets of Central Park and the Plaza Hotel. Streets once roamed by wealthy shoppers began to attract a whole new set after election night 2016.

Last Sunday, anti-fascist protesters gathered outside Trump Tower to counter-protest a pro-Trump rally— unsurprisingly, supporters of the president are also drawn to the building.

The anti-Trump protesters on spotting Rudy Giuliani sitting in his car, heckled him as “the worst mayor in the history of New York”. Mr Trump might expect similar treatment.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Were he to leave office in January, Mr Trump will continue to receive Secret Service protection for the remainder of his life as per the Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012. Under the law, spouses do as well (unless the marriage ends), and children under the age of 16 also receive protection. The rest of the immediate Trump family would not.

Moving around the city would certainly be a lower-key affair than when he travels as president with a much smaller motorcade deployed as needed, and dependent on whether it is an official engagement or not.

Footage of Barack Obama in Manhattan a month after leaving office shows three vehicles and a large crowd of cheering supporters. It might be a different situation if it were Donald Trump — safely transporting such a controversial figure could prove an unprecedented challenge in a busy city.

Even at his own doorstep on Fifth Avenue is a reminder of opposition to his leadership. Directly in front of the gilded skyscraper is a legacy of 2020, when activists, assisted by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, painted the words “Black Lives Matter” in huge yellow letters in the middle of the road in July. Trump has denounced the movement as a “symbol of hate” and decried the street painting as “denigrating this luxury Avenue”.

The Trump name has become a symbol of hate to many, and the residents’ boards of some Manhattan buildings once branded with his name voted to have signs removed.

Downtown, the Trump SoHo hotel saw business decline so much after the 2016 election that the affiliation with the Trump brand was ended, the name was removed, and the property was rebranded as The Dominick.

In early September 2020, Governor Cuomo declared that “New Yorkers don’t want to have anything to do with him”, calling the president “persona non grata” in the city and suggested he would need an army of bodyguards to be able to walk down the street.

“Well they [the Trumps] weren't exactly grata before their stint in the White House, why would things change?” Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair, who once mocked Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian” told The Independent.

One example of how badly he is received, is a “living statue” which appeared in Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan last month. Called The Final Push, it depicted a golden Trump driving a golf cart over the tombstones of coronavirus victims and the war dead. The intention was to encourage passers-by to register to vote, and the response was largely “super positive”.

Tori Mattei, a publicist in her twenties and a registered Republican, offered a typically blunt response on whether the city would roll out the welcome wagon.

“I can confidently say f*** no,” Ms Mattei, a lifelong New Yorker, told The Independent.

If Mr Trump loses the election, what happens next may impact how he is received were he to return to New York. He has repeatedly refused to say that he will accept the election results while pushing baseless claims about election fraud, leading to concern that there will not be a peaceful transition of power should Mr Biden win.

For example, in a tweet flagged as “misleading” by Twitter, he said: “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.”

If he were to contest the results, there will likely be large-scale demonstrations, not just in the streets of New York but nationwide.

Tim, who did not give his last name, an advertising copywriter from Brooklyn in his forties, told The Independent: “If Trump were to come back to NYC, I’m fairly certain there would be a run on tomatoes at Whole Foods.

“His living situation would be untenable, with protests happening on a weekly — if not daily — basis.”

However, there are still a number of people who would welcome a former president back to his home city with pride. In the summer there were boat rallies on the Hudson River in support of Trump’s re-election. Orthodox Jews back Trump by a massive margin according to a poll by Ami Magazine. During recent demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions by the Orthodox community, a number of Trump 2020 flags were flown.

Police unions support Trump for his law and order message. Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, endorsed Trump in a speech before the Republican National Convention. President of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, regularly praises him and has appeared at the White House.

On 25 October, a caravan of cars organised by a group called “Jews for Trump” made its way through the city from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side. There were angry confrontations in which insults were hurled and eggs thrown, including the incident that saw abuse hurled at Mr Giuliani. Arrests were made for disorderly conduct.

In a separate incident in Brooklyn, during an argument with a man who called Mr Trump a fascist, a police officer responded with “Trump 2020” over a loudspeaker. Recorded footage went viral and the officer has since been suspended without pay.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea commented that “Law Enforcement must remain apolitical, it is essential in our role to serve ALL New Yorkers regardless of any political beliefs.”

While other former officials or tabloid villains may occasionally encounter their detractors, New Yorkers tend to go about their lives paying little attention to those around them.

However, a post-pandemic New York may not be so forgiving to a president that many blame for the mishandled response to Covid-19 and perhaps more so in the city’s large hospitality industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in early September that 44 per cent of workers in the sector had lost their jobs.

Joseph, who declined to give his last name, a hospitality manager from Queens in his late thirties, has worked in the Manhattan hotel and restaurant scene for almost 20 years.

“Trump used to go to 21 Club or Polo Bar, which attract a specific clientele, mainly from the Upper East Side, that was apparently willing to either give him a pass or ignore him,” he told The Independent.

“I knew a bartender who said that he hated him, but that he did tip well.”

But he added: “Everything has gone too far. If he were to walk into a bar or restaurant or hotel just a few blocks west of Fifth Avenue or south of 57th Street, he would encounter a lot of evil glares.

“I've witnessed guests get up and leave their table because someone that is so hated was seated next to them, so you could expect that too.”

High-end hospitality workers are trained to serve customers no matter who they are, “whether it’s Donald Trump or just an everyday a**hole off the street,” Joseph added.

“But somebody with his level of notoriety, and with all of the terrible things that he's done... I can't imagine that he would receive stellar service anywhere that he doesn’t own.”

Intense scrutiny of Mr Trump as president has undeniably dented his personal brand, as revelations regarding his taxes and indebtedness published by The New York Times have shaken the already much-questioned perception of his true wealth and success. The image of a “billionaire” businessman he cultivated while filming The Apprentice has been tarnished forever.

A senior executive in real estate development and finance, who declined to be named, gave an unvarnished perspective on how he might be received in that world.

Trump reporting for jury service in Manhattan in 2015REUTERS
Trump reporting for jury service in Manhattan in 2015REUTERS

“To state the obvious, he would be completely exorcised. He has very few business relationships still intact — it is a known fact that doing business with the Trump Organisation leads to a less than desirable outcome. He stiffs business partners, banks, and staff,” he told The Independent.

“The Trump name provokes such a visceral outcry that no one is prepared to publicly acknowledge a touchpoint, especially publicly-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts. Just look at how all those rentals near the West Side Highway had the Trump name removed.”

Given that the president made Florida his official residence last year, he may wile away his post-presidency years, as is popular with many New York seniors, in the Sunshine State.

Like Mr Trump, Karin, who declined to give her last name, moved to Manhattan from Queens in the 1970s. The retiree told The Independent that she does not believe the president would return to the city.

“Why would he ever come back here? Everyone hates him, and even when he was here before, everyone hated him then!” she said. “He’ll go to Mar-a-Lago, and good riddance.”

Early voting in the Empire State is underway, with long lines of enthusiastic people waiting to cast their ballots. A Siena poll at the end of September put Joe Biden ahead by 32 points statewide.

National and battleground state polling indicates a victory for the Democrats is on the cards, with some groups that gave Mr Trump a chance in 2016 not willing to give him a second one. 

Joseph, the lone Democratic voter from a family of Republicans, told The Independent that most of them voted for Mr Trump in 2016, but would never support his re-election.

“They have disowned him both as a New Yorker and as a human.”

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