His name has been plastered on this city’s tabloids, bolted to its buildings and cemented to a special breed of brash New York confidence. Now, with Donald Trump due to return to the place that put him on the map, the city he loved is poised to deliver his comeuppance.
Rejected by its voters, ostracized by its protesters and now rebuked by its jurors, the people of New York have one more thing to splash Trump’s name on: Indictment No. 71543-23.
“He wanted to be in Manhattan. He loved Manhattan. He had a connection to Manhattan,” says Barbara Res, a longtime employee of the former president who was a vice president at the Trump Organization. “I don’t know that he has accepted it and I don’t know that he believes it, but New York turned on him.”
None of Trump’s romances have lasted longer than his courtship of New York. No place else could match his blend of ostentatious and outlandish. His love of the city going unrequited is Shakespearean enough, but Trump took it a step further, rising to the presidency only to become a hometown antihero.
Trump was born and raised in Queens to a real estate developer father whose projects were largely in Queens and Brooklyn. But the younger Trump ached to cross the East River and make his name in Manhattan. He gained a foothold with his transformation of the rundown Commodore Hotel into a glittering Grand Hyatt and ensured a spotlight on himself by appearing at the side of politicians and celebrities, popping up at Studio 54 and other hot spots and coaxing near-constant media coverage.
By the greed-is-good 1980s, he was a New York fixture. And in a city that prides itself as the center of the world, Trump saw himself as king.
“Trump grew up with a great deal of resentment toward others who he thought had more fame, wealth, or popularity,” says David Greenberg, a Rutgers University professor who wrote “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.” “Making it in Manhattan — building Trump Tower and becoming a fixture of the Manhattan social scene in the 1980s — meant a lot to him.”
The feeling was never truly mutual, though. Trump left a trail of unpaid bills, jilted workers and everyday New Yorkers who saw through his shameless self-promotion.
He may have been a singular character, but in a city of 8 million stories, his was just another one.
So, for years, Trump’s life here continued as the city raced on around him. Marriages came and went. Skyscrapers rose. Bankruptcies were filed. Trump flickered in and out of fame’s upper echelon.
He may never have been a common New Yorker, packed in the subway on the morning commute or grabbing a hot dog from a street vendor, but for many he remained a benign, if outsized, presence.
That began changing with years of bizarre, racially-fueled lies about Barack Obama’s birthplace, and by the time he descended the golden escalator at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, to announce his presidential bid, many in his hometown had little patience for the vitriol he spewed.
Rockefeller Center played host to a weekly “Saturday Night Live” that made him a mockery, and at a Waldorf-Astoria gala, he elicited groans. In vast swaths of the city, distaste for Trump turned to hatred.
Even among Republicans, many saw him as believable as a Gucci bag on Canal Street. Trump won the state’s Republican primary, but couldn’t convince GOP voters in Manhattan.
“He’s no longer just this TV show charlatan. People see this man is actually going to lead the country and the world in the wrong direction,” says Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University.
On Election Night 2016, tears flowed at the Javits Center, where Hillary Clinton’s victory party never materialized, while giddy supporters of Trump reveled in his surprise win across town in a Hilton ballroom. New Yorkers’ rebuke of their native son meant nothing. His face was projected unto the face of the Empire State Building as locals digested the fact that he would be president.
In the days that followed, a curious parade of politicians and celebrities journeyed to Trump Tower to meet the president-elect and, for weeks after, predictions about his presidency were rampant.
Among the musings of observers was speculation of a commuter president shuttling between New York and Washington. When word emerged that his wife and young son wouldn’t immediately move to the White House, it gave credence to the idea that Trump could never fully part with the city that made him.
But Trump continued being Trump, his presidency gave way to one controversy and broken norm after another, and New York become a capital of the resistance, giving birth to persistent mass protests.
The city of his dreams was no longer a place he could call home.
“New York has gone to hell,” he said as Election Day 2020 neared.
When the ballots were counted, Manhattan had seven times as many supporters of Joe Biden than those for Trump, and this time the Electoral College followed. When Trump’s presidency ended and he left Washington after the violent insurrection he incited, it was clear New York would be inhospitable.
Like droves of New Yorkers before him, he retired to Florida.
When he returns north now, he spends most of his time at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The man who long tried to eschew his bridge-and-tunnel past is again separated from Manhattan by a river.
On his first return to Manhattan after leaving office, the New York Post reported a single person waited outside Trump Tower to catch a glimpse. Even protesters couldn’t be bothered with him anymore.
His rebuke came from New Yorkers taking part in a right-of-passage for city dwellers, jury duty, and if it fit the mold of prior grand juries, it brought together a quintessential Manhattan cross-section, from neighborhoods, incomes and backgrounds different enough to ensure a cast of characters fit for TV.
With word of Trump’s indictment now out, the story of his deteriorating romance with New York is gaining a sense of finality. Even the Post, part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire that helped Trump win the White House to begin with, has abandoned him. The paper that once documented his affair with a screaming “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had” headline beside Trump’s smirking face, last week called him “deranged” on a front page on which he was branded “Bat Hit Crazy” in huge letters.
Trump once bragged he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and remain popular. Today, he could hand out fifties in New York and still not win the support of most locals.
He has dismissed the grand jury’s actions as a “scam” and a “persecution” and denied he did anything wrong. Democrats, he says, are lying and cheating to hurt his campaign to return to the White House.
Outside the courthouse that awaits him, the spectacle has largely been confined to the hordes of media. Among the few regular New Yorkers to make the trip there was Marni Halasa, a figure skater who showed up in a leopard print leotard, cat ears and wads of fake bills strung into a “hush money” boa. She stood alone outside Friday to celebrate the indictment of one of her city’s most famous sons.
“New Yorkers are here in spirit,” she says, “and I feel like I’m representing most of them.”