LOIS WEISS: Trump's Real Estate Friends Are Still With Him, Despite The Backlash
Despite President Donald Trump's many controversial comments, New York real estate executives generally remain loyal and hopeful that Trump’s plans for the economy and other agenda items remain on course.
Those who checked the box as being part of the real estate industry donated a collective $4.5M to Trump's presidential campaign. Finance, insurance and real estate together provided $9M, with many of the donors from New York. Another $18.7M was raised by New Yorkers — the most of any state — just for the inauguration festivities.
“He’s been my friend for years, why wouldn’t I support him?” Richard LeFrak, the son of another famous Queens real estate developer, told me in late September outside LeFrak City, the company’s signature middle-class housing project. “I didn’t go to the fundraiser [at LeCirque], but I don’t have to go to every fundraiser. I just saw him last week in Washington.”
Those who know Trump well not only stand by their man, but they are adamant he is not racist, homophobic, misogynist, a supporter of white supremacy, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic or any number of other things he’s been accused of — no matter what comes out of his mouth and is then partially quoted in headlines.
“The notion that Donald Trump is insensitive is farcical,” said Witkoff Group founder Steve Witkoff, a longtime supporter who was one of the few who spoke to me willing to have his name revealed. “The president is a friend of mine. Beyond a friend, he has been a good friend. I’m not in the business of being disloyal and I’m not going to be.”
But Witkoff feels pressure to disclaim the president.
“We are living in a time today where it is in people’s interest to be polarizing," Witkoff said. "It seems to be the way to win the fight today. If you say anything out there that is any way supportive of Trump, you are [vilified].”
Indeed, after I attended and reported on inauguration weekend and posted one silly souvenir photo of my husband and me smiling in a miniature mock-up of the Oval Office, a cousin declared on Facebook that, if she had known “what we were really like,” she would not have gone to our wedding decades earlier.
Another of Trump’s longtime real estate CEO friends told me “I get two letters a week asking why I don’t denounce him.”
That executive said he was horrified at the ongoing trashing of Trump’s family, including his adult children and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Like most of those interviewed, he asked to remain anonymous to avoid blowback from those who oppose the president.
When asked about Trump’s more polarizing statements, multiple real estate executives shrugged and provided nearly the same word-for-word response: “That’s Donald; that’s who he is.”
“He speaks off the cuff,” said one, shaking his head at his friend’s faulty phrases.
At a speech before the GOP convention last summer, financier and longtime Trump friend Thomas Barrack Jr., CEO of Colony NorthStar, described Trump as having “the discipline of an animal in the jungle.”
Barrack served as his friend’s chief fundraiser and head of the Inaugural Committee, which raised $100M. While sticking up for Trump, he told the Washington Post he has been “stunned” and “shocked” at what comes out of the president’s mouth.
“I tell him all the time: I don’t like the rhetoric,” Barrack said earlier this month. “In my opinion, he’s better than this.”
Still, Barrack said Trump’s “lack of predictability” has gained him respect.
Barrack has been vilified for remaining Trump’s friend and confidant.
Although some real estate executives and their public relations advisers are concerned about backlash to their businesses if they express the slightest support for Trump, Witkoff has a more pointed response.
“So don’t buy in my building," he says to people who will not separate business from politics. "If that’s the world, that’s crazy.”
Lois Weiss is a Bisnow featured columnist as well as a real estate reporter for the New York Post. She has covered New York City real estate for more than two decades and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.