Donald Trump was back in town yesterday – but only briefly. It was his first time back in New York since departing for Washington on 19th January to be inaugurated as president the next day (and it still feels surreal to write that). He recently said he has avoided visiting New York because the trips are expensive for the government and would ‘inconvenience’ New Yorkers. Yeah, right …
Yesterday, I counted up to 14 white ‘garbage’ dump trucks loaded with sand, all parked in line along the majestic Fifth Avenue, directly outside Trump Tower. They’re called ‘sanitation’ trucks here. A uniformed Secret Service cop told me that it was part of the NYPD’s ‘antiterrorism protocol’ and a ‘first line barricade’ – presumably to provide a dense, protective barrier in the event of a bomb. I don’t know how much it cost the New York City’s Department of Sanitation to protect the jewel of Donald’s real estate empire all day yesterday, but I find it ironic that they used garbage trucks.
Manhattan is where Trump made his name, transforming himself from real-estate developer to flamboyant property tycoon, to The Apprentice celebrity-businessman and now president. Whilst on the presidential campaign, he’d fly thousands of miles back to Trump Tower to sleep in his own bed (I presume it is ornate and gold-plated), leaving the impression that he’d make frequent trips home after he became president. But most New Yorkers genuinely loathe him – he received only 18 percent of the vote in New York in November’s presidential election – and so I wonder whether he’ll ever feel ‘at home’ here again.
Providing security for first lady Melania Trump, who has continued to live in Trump Tower whilst their 11-year-old son Barron finishes the school year, has been an expensive obligation for New York – and this has annoyed residents even more. The security costs for Trump and his family came to $24 million during the presidential transition period alone, and now surpass $300,000 a day since then – although Congress did vote last week to reimburse the city and other local governments for $61 million.
The police presence in and around Fifth Avenue’s Trump Tower yesterday was immense, to say the least. Just strolling by, we felt like extras on the set of an episode of Homeland or House of Cards. NYPD cops, counterterrorism officers and uniformed Secret Service agents were all on duty alongside numerous plainclothes agents, all with the essential earpiece, shades, cropped hair and bulging jackets barely concealing their weapons. What with the 14-plus NYC Sanitation Trucks, the concrete roadblocks and helicopters circling above, as well as keeping the protestors to one side and the TV news crews penned in securely across the other side of the road – well, I doubt $300,000 covered it for the day. And this was just on the Midtown East side of Manhattan … where Donald Trump finally didn’t even turn up …
The president was originally scheduled to spend about six hours at various locations in Manhattan, arriving at 3pm to meet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia in the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue – just a block across the road from Trump Tower. He was then expected to make a ‘homecoming’ at Trump Tower before attending a black-tie reception and dinner aboard the Intrepid museum in honour of veterans of the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which the United States and Australia fought side by side against the Japanese in May 1942. As well as the scattered protestors waiting outside Trump Tower, therefore, across the other side of town on the West Side Highway with West 46th Street, a larger protest had been gathering opposite the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space aircraft carrier museum, relatively isolated from the rest of the city.
But all the plans changed whilst Trump was still in Washington yesterday morning, as he decided to hold a news conference to celebrate with fellow Republicans from the U.S. House of Representatives, who narrowly passed a healthcare bill that would repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare … pushing back his meeting with Turnbull by several hours.
By noon, the stops at the Peninsula Hotel and Trump Tower had already been dropped from the schedule – but I don’t think this news had filtered properly through to the media camped out in Fifth Avenue, nor the onlookers and protestors awaiting The Donald’s (non-)arrival. We hung around for awhile, speaking to some of the protestors – taking shots of some placards stating that Trump was ‘Russian Elected’, that ‘Trump Water is Bullshit’ (I didn’t quite understand that one), and ‘No Ban, No Gag, No Wall’ – but we gave up soon afterwards to enjoy more sightseeing.
By 6pm, we were over in Brooklyn, enjoying the views of Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights. It was from there, across the Hudson River, we could see Trump’s Marine One helicopter arriving at the Wall Street heliport, escorted by 4 or 5 military helicopters, constantly circling – with the wail of police sirens from vehicles awaiting to accompany his motorcade audible across the river. There were two Marine One helicopters – and I understand that is the norm. It’s an extra expense, but also a security to ensure that no-one knows which one the president is travelling in. Blue-flashing police patrol boats had blocked off a large slice of the river, and I later heard they’d intercepted two boats carrying activists from Greenpeace.
Apparently Trump finally attended his black-tie dinner on the Intrepid with Turnbull – and then he was expected to go to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for the weekend. We ate by candlelight at the romantic Armando’s Italian restaurant in Montague Street on Brooklyn Heights. I had spaghetti all’arrabiata, and Juliane had the lasagna. Oh, plus a bottle of Yakima Valley Merlot. We had a better night than Donald, I’m sure.