The real estate mogul was the keynote speaker at a real estate conference Wednesday, where his skepticism on the state of the commercial real estate market was overshadowed by protesters, racist comments and a disgruntled audience member.
Zell was being interviewed by Peter Linneman, a principal at real estate consulting firm Linneman Associates and an emeritus professor at the Wharton School. The two were talking about the abolishment of the one-child law in China, agreeing that “nothing happened” after the law changed.
Linneman twice implied that perhaps people don’t want to have sex with Chinese men. He said: “Look at Chinese men, that may be your explanation.”
Zell replied that this was another issue entirely.
“That’s too heavy for me,” he said.
After these comments, an audience member –identifying himself as a military veteran and a tenant of one of Zell’s buildings– stood up and told Linneman he was offended by his comments. A representative for GreenPearl, which produced the conference on behalf of EisnerAmper, intervened and asked the man to sit down and respect Zell and Linneman’s time. The man replied that he didn’t respect either panelist.
Zell turned to Linneman and said, “let’s get out of here.” The panel swiftly concluded.
Protestors have shown up. pic.twitter.com/6cutiAiDzF
— Kathryn Brenzel (@katiebrenzel) September 28, 2016
In a statement, a spokesperson for EisnerAmper said that it “does not condone the comments made on stage by Peter Linneman and they in no way reflect the values or views of EisnerAmper. He was invited to participate based on his decades-long career in real estate data analysis. We deeply regret his comments.”
Before the interview even began, protesters from New York Communities for Change stormed Pier Sixty, where the conference was held. The protesters, who alleged that Zell was displacing residents of mobile home communities he owned, chanted: “Sam Zell, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.” Eventually, the event coordinators called security and the protestors left, vowing to return.
This story was updated to include a comment from EisnerAmper