Howard Lorber on being a sounding board for Donald Trump

Vector CEO talks up GOP nominee's job-creation record

Donald Trump and Howard Lorber
Donald Trump and Howard Lorber

Howard Lorber, CEO of Vector Group and chair of Douglas Elliman, was one of a handful of real estate bigwigs tapped to join Donald Trump’s economics advisory team.

Lorber, who’s known Trump since the 1980s and donated to his campaign, will help counsel the Republican nominee on his plan to revitalize the economy, a strategy that includes across-the-board tax cuts, relaxed regulations, and an “America first” policy on trade deals.

The Real Deal caught up with Lorber this week to get his take on the campaign and learn more about the role he’s expected to play.

How did you meet Donald Trump?

I’ve known him for over 30 years. I was introduced to him by a lawyer named Jerry Schrager when I first started doing some real estate things. He was Trump’s lawyer at the time. I would always stop by and see him — his office is across the street — and when I would go to Florida, I would go to Mar-a-Lago [a private club owned by Trump]. I play golf with him sometimes down there and we go to basketball games together.

Have you ever done business together?

We’ve [Elliman] sold apartments in Trump buildings but that’s basically it. No real investments together.

What did you think when he said he was making a run for the White House?

I thought the timing was probably right. I wasn’t really sure why he wanted to do it, based on how your life has to change. But he was committed to doing it and has gone full into it. I don’t envy him but he’s obviously clicked with a large part of the population.

Does he ask your opinion a lot?

Donald asks a lot of questions and asks people what they think. We’re always talking about business ideas and politics.

Why do you think he picked you to be one of his key economic advisers?

He just went to people who were smart and that he liked to talk to and who hopefully would help him raise money as well. We started off with a small fundraiser in the city with mostly real estate people — Richard LeFrak and myself hosted it.

Who was there? 

Mike Fascitelli, Steve Roth, Arnold Gumowitz, Ziel Feldman.

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Do you agree with some of the more controversial things he’s said?

I don’t agree with everything on the Republican platform. I’ve voted and given money to Republicans and Democrats. I don’t vote for the real right-wing Republicans and I don’t vote for the real left-wing Democrats. On social issues, I’m much more liberal. I believe in a woman’s right to choose — I don’t know why people even bother arguing about it. It’s the law of the land. I surely have no problem with gay and lesbian marriages. Everyone should do what they’re comfortable doing.

Tell me about your experience at the GOP convention

I was very proud of who he had speaking and what they said, and proud of what he said in his speech. He didn’t pander to the right wing. He had Peter Thiel [billionaire venture capitalist], who said, ‘I’m a Republican and I’m gay.’ I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone that he’s pretty moderate when it comes to social issues.

How involved were you in shaping Trump’s tax plan?

The ideas are pretty sensible ideas as far as lower taxes, so you don’t really have to sit around and talk about it. The devil is in the details and those will start coming out. I don’t think there’s anyone realistically today that knows anything about business or the economy that doesn’t believe we’re in a period of very low growth. And the only way to get out of that is jobs. The only way to create jobs is to lower taxes.

Does Trump have the experience to pull it off?

He’s created thousands of jobs. When they couldn’t get the Wollman Rink [in Central Park] done and it was over budget, he came in and opened it quick. He basically restored the Grand Central area to be a vibrant area with the old Commodore Hotel. What he did on Fifth Avenue in the 1980s…

How do you respond to the criticism that his economic advisory team lacks diversity?

Everyone else has 100 politicians and that’s proven not to work. We’re self-made businessmen that have created jobs and know what it’s like to have to work. I think it’s a pretty good group and I’m sure he’ll add to it. It’s a pretty diverse group and a group that knows how to push the economy.

Do you think being rich prevents you from understanding the pains of the middle class?

I don’t think so. Maybe if you’re born with it, it does. But when you work for it, it helps you understand.

If Trump wins, do you have a sense of how involved you’ll be in the administration?

That’s not something at this point that really interests me. I’m a patriotic guy and I want to help but I like what I do very much and I’d like to keep my day job. I’m not doing this because I want to end up in Washington, D.C.