For decades, Donald Trump’s identity was interwoven with his hometown of New York City: big, brash and dedicated to making money. Manhattan was the imposing backdrop as Trump transformed himself from local real-estate developer to celebrity businessman — skyscrapers and gossip pages featured his name — and during last year’s presidential campaign he’d fly thousands of miles to sleep in his own bed at Trump Tower.
But since his inauguration more than two months ago, Trump has not set foot within the city limits.
The Republican president received only 18 percent of the vote in the decidedly liberal city. Frequent protests now clog Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower. A date for a return trip has yet to be scheduled. Though Trump is expected to travel to New York in the coming weeks, he is unlikely to receive a hero’s welcome. One of his sons says that while the president will enjoy making trips to his hometown, his relationship with the city has changed.
“When he was in New York, his No. 1 thing was work. This was where work was,” said Eric Trump in an interview. “He was home. He took the elevator to his office. At the end of the day, he went back up. He did it every day of his life.”
“Now his focus isn’t work, but being president, so his attention is elsewhere.”
Trump was last in New York on Jan. 19, the day before he took office, when he left Trump Tower, his home of 30-plus years, and flew to Washington. His wife, Melania, and their 10-year-old son, Barron, who attends a private Manhattan school, have remained behind, as have Trump’s two adult sons who are now tasked with running their father’s sprawling business interests.
During the presidential transition, speculation swirled that Trump, a famed homebody and creature of habit, would return to Manhattan frequently. But while the president has repeatedly left Washington on weekends, he heads south instead, to his palatial Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Mar-a-Lago closes for the season later this spring. Trump has given no indication he will keep it open — he didn’t last year during the campaign — and he is expected to head north for weekend trips, either to his Manhattan high-rise or his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Allies say New Yorkers should be excited about his presence even if they may disagree with his politics.
“As someone who loves history, I am excited to go to the Martin Van Buren House in Kinderhook, New York, and New Yorkers should be thrilled to have this president’s house right here in New York City,” said Joe Borelli, a co-chair of Trump’s campaign in New York state. “He’s a quintessential New Yorker. This is going to remain his home.”
But Borelli is just one of just three Republicans on the 51-person New York City Council, pointing to the lopsided political divide in the nation’s largest city. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 6-to-1 margin and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has denounced many of Trump’s views as “‘un-American.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the mayor believes the president is significantly out of step with the values of New York City,” said Erik Phillips, de Blasio’s spokesman. “That said, the mayor’s attitude also is that he wants the president to feel and see the potential impacts on his hometown of some of these budget cuts he’s talked about.”
Another of de Blasio’s concerns: the cost of safeguarding the president in the 58-story skyscraper on one of Manhattan’s busiest streets.
The New York Police Department estimated that it cost their agency about $24 million to protect Trump Tower when the president-elect stayed there between Election Day and the inauguration 73 days later. That works out to about $328,000 per day; when it’s just Melania and Barron Trump in the building, the cost to the NYPD drops to about $127,000 to $146,000 per day. The police department is seeking federal reimbursement. Secret Service expenses also balloon while Trump is in town.
Eric Trump said his father is mindful of the impact of his presence in New York, particularly on traffic. But when asked this week if Trump is concerned about criticism of the cost of his trips, White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded, “No, he feels great.”
Many who worked with — or against — Trump in New York have expressed surprise he’s stayed away so far.
Trump was born in Queens but didn’t want to stay there, pushing his family’s development firm into the glitzy and cutthroat Manhattan market. He rehabilitated dilapidated city landmarks — like Central Park’s ice skating rink and a 42nd Street hotel — and gained a reputation as a publicity-hungry celebrity in a town that celebrated success. He’d frequently call into the city’s tabloids, sometimes adopting an alias to act as his own spokesman.
“For all his braggadocio he was kind of a likable guy if you didn’t pay any attention to the truth,” said George Rush, longtime gossip columnist at the New York Daily News.
“He’d love to say, ‘This is off the record but you can use it,'” said Rush, who recalled Trump’s tireless efforts to make himself part of the city’s celebrity firmament.
“You couldn’t turn the corner without running into his name — and needing to put on sunglasses because of the sun’s glare off the bronze,” Rush recalled. “But he’s always someone who needed to be loved and he’s not loved here now. He’s become sort of the prodigal son of New York.”