Donald Trump: New York's thankless child

Donald Trump: New York's thankless child
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Before he abruptly took up residence in Florida, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. He was born and grew up in the bedroom community of Jamaica Estates, Queens. New Yorkers think of Queens as a low- to middle-income melting pot community with blacks as well as Latinos, Indians and other foreign-born people comprising its swelling populations. When Donald Trump was young, Jamaica Estates was more monolithic. It was then almost exclusively white. Minorities, Italians, Jews and people of color would have had difficulty purchasing homes.

Donald Trump doesn’t seem to like New York anymore. It’s not where his votes are. He has trashed New York as a “high-tax state,” blamed it for being “hot” with disease, a haven for undocumented immigrants and a sanctuary city protecting immigrants from the wrath of family-separating ICE agents.

Trump hates New York so much that he eliminated the federal tax deduction for paid New York State and City taxes that Republican Sen. Al D’Amato once fought so hard to leave in place. As a result, the state comptroller says New York gave the federal government $26.6 billion more than it got back. Incongruously, it stands last in line for federal benefits.


Trump’s seminal roots are in New York. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, to whom Donald owes his fortune, started a garage-building business, which morphed in the 1920s into single-family row houses principally in Brooklyn and Queens. As World War II loomed, Fred Trump procured government contracts for apartments and barracks for servicemen. After the war he constructed 27,000 FHA subsidized apartments in Brooklyn and Queens from which Donald Trump derives income to this day. Trump’s father was successful beyond fantasy and passed on to his children $1 billion tax-free.

Trump’s children were educated in New York. His mother, Mary MacLeod Trump, an immigrant from Scotland, is buried beside her husband and Trump’s older brother in Middle Village, Queens. 

For Trump, it all happened in New York. The monument to his auto-deification, Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue and East 54th Street, was built in the 1980s at the epicenter of Manhattan, now the national epicenter of the coronavirus. On the debit side of the ledger, New York also was the site of his many business failures. And, when Trump went down, he allegedly left some of his New York creditors hanging.

Today, New York is in coronavirus crisis and desperately needs federal help. The figures have become painfully familiar. At last report, more than 30,000 COVID-19 cases have sprawled across the state, accounting for more than half of all confirmed cases in the country. New York City may have to close parks, playgrounds and some streets to reduce density. Serious stuff.

According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who gets high marks from many for his leadership in this crisis, the state’s hospitalization rate is “moving faster than initial estimates,” and health officials project that 140,000 people will be hospitalized over the next 14 to 21 days. The state previously said it would need 110,000 beds for COVID-19 patients by early to mid-May. Elmhurst Hospital Center, a 545-bed public hospital in Queens located only eight miles from Jamaica Estates, Trump’s childhood home, is becoming exclusively a COVID-19 facility. The situation there smacks of the macabre. In a recent 24-hour period, 13 people perished at Elmhurst, some in the emergency room while waiting for assignment to a bed. A refrigerated truck waits outside to receive the bodies of the dead. A resident physician declared, “It’s apocalyptic.”


The U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion bail-out bill that, according to Cuomo, “would really be terrible for the State of New York.” Only $3.8 billion, or possibly less, would go to New York, with only $1.4 billion headed for New York City. Sounds like big bucks but “That is a drop in the bucket” compared with what New Yorkers need, Cuomo argues. “How do you plug a $15 billion hole with $3.8 billion? You don’t.”

New York has on hand 30,000 ventilators short of what will be required. Ventilators are essential to save the lives of the afflicted. I always understood Trump and his followers to be “pro-life” but I guess the doctrine applies only when fetal life is threatened by abortion clinics. New York is short on surgical masks and protective equipment, so health care providers may be at heightened risk of getting sick. The strategic national reserve may have masks but they are reportedly falling apart because of worn elasticity. FEMA said it would send the state 400, and Vice President Pence later said he would send 4,000 from the stockpile. It’s a joke. None of this is enough to save the lives in peril.

A friend in a position to know told me that a large hospital in New York, where beds might be available for coronavirus patients, has a paucity of masks and gowns. The private sector is producing masks, but delivery will be delayed until as early as summer. There is a supply of masks available from China, but the center of production is the very province where the pandemic originated. There is clearly a role for the federal government.

Without equipment, untold numbers of New Yorkers will die effectively untreated in makeshift field hospitals. Nevertheless, Trump says he is itching to “re-open the country. Yet, Cuomo reminds us that the number of deadly coronavirus cases is increasing at a faster clip than had been projected, doubling every three days. “The apex is higher than we thought,” Cuomo said. “And the apex is sooner than we thought. That is a bad combination…”

Trump is a recent immigrant to Florida. Did he do it to save taxes? Or did he conclude correctly that Florida is where the votes reside? Or is he thinking ahead to his legal exposure after he leaves office? Whatever the reason, why turn his back on New York to which he owes so much? King Lear had it right: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child. 

James D. Zirin, a retired partner of the Chicago-headquartered law firm of Sidley Austin, is the author of the recently published book, “Plaintiff in Chief — A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits.” He is a former assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.