Editor's note: Our builder-in-chief

Dec.December 01, 2016 01:00 PM
Stuart Elliott

Stuart Elliott

Has capitalism finally eaten democracy?

It might seem that way with the ascension of the first billionaire NYC real estate mogul to the office of the President of the United States.

Just a month ago, many were speculating about how big Hillary Clinton’s victory would be. Today, however, there’s a new world order, and Donald Trump has continued to suck up every single inch of newsprint, every computer-screen pixel and every molecule of the air we breathe these days when it comes to politics.

Much of the discussion, of course, is about his conflicts of interest and the ability of our democracy to absorb his various business ties if he does not properly disentangle himself from them. As TRD went to press, Trump vowed to present a plan in the coming weeks to completely remove himself from Trump Organization business operations.

That seems like a tall order given how many buildings his name is slapped on worldwide and how many partnerships he has around the globe. But we’re waiting to see his plan.

This month we look at the effect of those business ties, as well as Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure program, deregulation initiatives, tax cuts, selection of advisors (including possibly his son-in-law and children) and immigration rhetoric to see what it all means on the ground for New York City real estate. The stories start on page 38.

Following a muted (and often silent) reception during his candidacy, many real estate players are now rushing to embrace Trump — excited by the possibility of tax reductions and huge infrastructure building he says he will push through.

Developing projects (or at least licensing out his name for projects) is what Trump has done his whole career. It is this sort of economic growth — which may be achievable through public-private infrastructure-building partnerships — that is the best hope to make long-neglected parts of the country better. It is certainly not through alt-right scapegoating or the curtailment of civil rights.

If Trump is truly going to run the country like he would his business, he would do well to take a page from fellow billionaire Mike Bloomberg’s playbook. Bloomberg skipped all the ideology and ran New York City like a company. Trump can accomplish the most by focusing on becoming our builder-in-chief rather than our tweeter-in-chief.

There is no indication that Trump will necessarily do this, because of the troubling and divisive rhetoric that has energized his base. But maybe we should make it easy for him — so he doesn’t have to make nice with the Turkish president, for example, and possibly shortchange U.S. foreign policy for the sake of his real estate project in Istanbul.

I’m talking about incentives, like in the private sector. 

How about Trump gets bonus payouts on the GDP growth he achieves during his administration (let’s say he gets to keep $1 billion for every $100 billion in GDP growth that occurs)? Let’s properly incentivize him for the country’s economic growth, just like people are incentivized in the business world.

I say all this jokingly, but if capitalism is going to overtake democracy, why don’t we take the best of the business world and apply it to government?

Also, while a few real estate players might benefit from a Trump presidency, it’s better if everyone can compete on equal footing. And hopefully there will be a lot of growth ahead, and NYC real estate will be a prime beneficiary.

Whatever happens, TRD will be committed, as we have always been, to aggressively reporting on Trump and providing the highest level of transparency about what’s going on in his administration. And we implore him to be equally transparent.

But believe it or not, Trump is not the only source of news for us these days.

Elsewhere in the issue, we have a host of other in-depth stories.

On page 34, we take a look at the battle to bring back the controversial 421a tax incentive that has been a big driver of development in the city. We take you inside the messy, behind-closed-doors lobbying war. (A tug-of-war between the public good and private interests almost seems quaint in the age of Trump, though.)

We also rank Manhattan’s top retail brokerages, just in time for the holiday shopping season (page 60). And we profile Corcoran honcho Pam Liebman (page 56), who may be sought out for a new and even bigger job (spoiler alert, it’s not in the Trump administration).

Enjoy the issue.

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