The Real Deal New York

Editor's note: What wouldn’t Trump do?

October 01, 2016
By Stuart Elliott

Stuart Elliott

Stuart Elliott

It’s unclear where Donald Trump stands on money laundering — whether he is for it or against it — but maybe we’ll find out during the next debate.

Given the complete unpredictability of everything that comes out of the candidate’s mouth, I’d say there is a 50-50 chance he supports it. After all, who would have envisioned Trump inciting his supporters to assassinate his political rival or inviting a foreign country to interfere in our elections?

In our cover story this month, we have a revealing take on how Manhattan real estate has become a safe haven for global money laundering, with an in-depth look at New York developers who have tied themselves (with varying degrees of awareness) to shady sources of foreign capital. The story examines several deals that show the surreptitious path of dirty money to developers’ accounts. Check out the story by Kathy Clarke and E.B. Solomont on page 36.

Elsewhere in the issue, we take a look at those shorting real estate, and how the commercial market may be the next big target as a weakening of fundamentals occurs — see page 90. (“That’s called business, by the way,” a tone-deaf Trump said during the first presidential debate, when asked about profiting off the last recession amid widespread foreclosures.) 

Also, don’t miss our piece on developer Michael Shvo’s tax indictment on page 100. (We all know how Trump would come down on this one, given his view that not paying taxes is “smart.”) And check out our look at the inner workings of the real estate market in Chinatown and other Chinese immigrant enclaves in the city on page 58. (It might surprise the Republican candidate that we came across few murderers and rapists amid all the newcomers to this country.)

With all this, it’s time to stop being surprised when Trump makes outrageous statements about breaking the law or when he blatantly lies and then casually does an about-face.

His end game — whether those statements are meticulously planned or completely off the cuff — is to weaken the rule of law and throw normal standards of conduct and social mores out the window. For many of Trump’s biggest followers, those ethics are being replaced by his cult of personality.

The man who became famous for putting his name in huge gold letters on the sides of his buildings represents one thing: his own ego. And those who are enjoying Trump bucking the system, sticking it to the man and flouting political correctness will find the ground disappearing from under their feet if he is elected.

Furthermore, Trump’s candidacy could be a huge existential threat to how real estate is conducted in NYC and the country, which is the ultimate irony given his background as a developer.

Some of the vital machinery that makes real estate function is one’s word, the law, courts, judges and contracts. Sure, there are notorious scofflaws, but this is the bedrock foundation that creates a level playing field and a transparent, free market. An open door to foreigners and foreign money is also important to New York real estate. As is repayment of borrowed money — the financial markets could take a nosedive if we have someone in office who casually talks about the U.S. not paying its debts.

It all sounds like some dystopian alternate reality, but that’s where we are today.

And yes, I am going to use the “d” word: Trump acts like a demagogue. Which is a shame, because he’s someone The Real Deal has known for more than a decade. He was always a brash self-promoter, but at the end of the day he was a respected billionaire businessman. What happened, Donald?

A recent book by author Michael Signer hits the nail on the head: “If the people are more interested in the roller-coaster of the demagogue’s ambitions than their own small part in maintaining the rule of law, democracy can disintegrate into authoritarianism and corruption.”

If you think Donald Trump is dangerous for the nation and its real estate industry, take action. And if you wholly support him, that is also your right.

But I do fear what a Trump presidency would mean for our country. Hopefully that won’t happen.

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