Trump Tower sees support, doubts from visitors, staff

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Trump Tower, New York
  • Updated: Apr 19, 2016 16:52 IST
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a press conference with members of the Veteran Police Association in Staten Island, New York on Saturday. (AFP)

As stoney-faced Secret Service men in dark suits quietly took position inside the building, Lorenzo Campos knew Donald Trump was in residence. It was his business to know.

That’s all his curious, awe-struck customers at the Trump Bar, in the atrium where the real estate tycoon announced his candidacy for the White House last June, always asked him.

“For some strange reason, they always want to know if he is in the building,” Campos said, chuckling. “It’s not as if there is any chance of them bumping into him. But they still ask.”

Trump was indeed home on Sunday night, ahead of the New York primaries he hopes to win by a massive margin to propel his candidacy towards the nomination.

Through he leads the Republican race with 755 delegates to second-placed Ted Cruz’s 559 and Kasich’s 144, Trump is likely to fall short of the 1,237 needed to win the ticket.

At Trump Tower, the ritzy 68-storey building that is his home and company headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, his fate as a candidate takes backstage to continuing curiosity about the man.

The building – partly accessible to public, the lobby, atrium and parts of the underground – has witnessed a rising tide of visitors since Trump jumped into the race.

They come to see him and find out more about the man who has the world talking about him. The building serves as a useful proxy occasionally, as it did to engage Ian Simpson.

An IT professional from England who is holidaying in New York with his wife, Simpson came to Trump Tower completely out of curiosity – “to know the man a little”.

And he was impressed by what he saw. “He is a definitely a clever man, a very smart man,” Simpson said, pointing to a hard-to-miss gently cascading waterfall in the atrium.

Can he now after this visit, as a Brit, see his country dealing with Trump in the White House? “Yes, sure, if we can deal with Putin (Russian president Vladimir Putin), why not?”

UK politicians nearly banned Trump from visiting their country earlier this year for his remarks about disallowing Muslims from entering the US. But they backed off after calling him names.

Simpson’s wife, Sylvia, seemed less impressed. “It’s the Starbucks,” she said that drew her to Trump Tower, referring to the coffee chain that has an outlet in the building.

That’s a cop-out, her husband said teasing her. But the Starbucks outlet was actually cited by a few others who seemed undecided about where they stood on Trump, given his politics.

The Republican frontrunner is a deeply divisive figure who is forcing his party to chose between him and riots on the streets if he was denied the nomination at the end of the primaries.

Critics have attributed his belligerence to an attempt to couch his own failure to understand the rules of the primaries and preparing for them. He is being out-thought by Cruz, by most accounts.

Bharat Gajjar, an Indian-American of Gujarati descent who works at a gift shot in Trump Tower — called Trump Tower Gift Shop — can’t wait for Trump to lose, for business reasons.

Till a year ago, before Trump began running for White House, most visitors to Trump Tower never really bought merchandise from the realtor’s promotional kiosks around the building.

From Trump-stamped diapers to hats to ties, perfumes, cufflinks, the store was never a big draw, Gajjar said, because of the price tags. “They were too expensive for common tourists.”

Most visitors preferred Gajjar’s $10 caps that said “I Love New York”. Now they want Trump’s caps (they call them hats here) with the “Make America Great Again” slogan, at $ 30 a piece.

As this correspondent was interviewing Gajjar, Bob Hickok stormed into the store looking for Trump campaign bumper stickers, mistaking the gift shop for a campaign store.

“Sorry sir,” Gajjar said. “The campaign store closed early today as on Sundays and you can come back tomorrow and buy one from them. We don’t sell campaign stuff.”

“Is Donald home,” Hickok said, “I want to speak to him — we need these stickers in California — we need some help there.” He was grandstanding, and he knew that.

The California primaries are on June 7, the last stop in the nominating season. Trump has said he expects to do well there and he may, according to RealClearPolitics average of polls.

But can he win the nomination? Can he win?

David Skellington, who has served as doorman at Trump Towers for eight years, is constantly fielding these questions, despite the fact he is several floors removed from those who can answer it.

But people just walk up wanting to know more about Trump. How often does he see him? Does he pay well? Does he treat him well? What kind of a man is he? Can he win?

He is voting for him, Skellington tells them.

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