Donald Trump Wanted Vets Kicked Off Fifth Avenue

Instead of debating his presidential rivals Thursday, the GOP frontrunner is hosting an event ‘to raise money’ for veterans. That’s rich, say the disabled veterans he tried to eject from the street outside Trump Tower.

01.28.16 5:15 AM ET

Now that he has balked at facing Megyn Kelly at the Republican debate, Donald Trump will be embracing heroes.

“[Trump] will instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians,” the Trump campaign announced.

Never mind that for more than a decade Trump sought to deprive veterans in need of their meager livelihood because he found them unsightly nuisances who should not be allowed anywhere near his gleaming headquarters on Fifth Avenue.

The Trump who now extols veterans spent years clamoring for New York City’s politicians to take action and ban even those street vendors with special disabled veteran’s licenses from the environs of Trump Tower.

As was reported in the New York Daily News, Trump wrote in a letter to the New York State Assembly back in 1991, “While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its tax paying citizens and businesses?”

He went on, “Do we allow Fifth Avenue, one of the world’s finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?”

He was still at it in 2004, when he wrote a letter to Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

“Whether they are veterans or not, they [the vendors] should not be allowed to sell on this most important and prestigious shopping street,” Trump declared.

He warned, “The image of New York City will suffer… I hope you can stop this very deplorable situation before it is too late.”

Army Veteran and Street Vendor, Sean Williams.

Michael Daly/The Daily Beast

Army Veteran and Street Vendor, Sean Williams.

The state Legislature had originally accorded a special vendor’s license to disabled veterans in the aftermath of the Civil War. Trump and other moneyed folks were not able to get the vendors banned, but the authorities did cap the total number of veterans with special licenses and restrict the number who could work on particular streets at a given time.

Peddlers were largely banned from Fifth Avenue, but they continued to sell their wares on the side streets.

On Wednesday, they included 48-year-old Sean Williams, who served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1992, and now sells hats and scarves on East 43rd Street, just off Fifth Avenue.

“I was going to re-enlist, but I had kids,” he said.

Williams has been supporting his family by peddling for the past 12 years, commencing around the time Trump wrote the mayor to say vets should not be allowed to sell on his street. Williams had no trouble characterizing Trump’s efforts.

“Despicable,” he said. “He never served. And not his kids.”

Williams uttered another word when he learned that Trump was using a veterans event to offset his absence from Thursday’s Republican debate.


Planters in front of Tump Tower to ward off street vendors on 5th Avenue, New York.

Michael Daly/The Daily Beast

Planters in front of Trump Tower to ward off street vendors on Fifth Avenue, New York.

Two blocks uptown, at East 45th Street just off Fifth Avenue, Annette Seck was also selling hats and scarves. She served in the Army from 1980 to 1985.

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“Talk about Private Benjamin…” she laughed.

Her son, now 27, also served in the Army and was deployed to Iraq. He returned with no physical wounds.

“He’s all right, I think,” she reported.

She worries that the war might have had unseen effects.

“I’m looking at him hard,” she said.

Her other worry is the business. The hyper-luxury enterprises such as Tiffany’s might be booming, but sidewalk stands that cater to the less wealthy 99 percent are way down.

“This is the worst year ever,” she lamented. “The money’s not there. People aren’t buying like they used to.”

She is aware of Trump’s efforts to chase the peddlers from the street. She counts the continued presence of her and her comrades as a defeat for The Donald.

“He lost, because of a lot of veterans in the street,” she said.

She then pondered the possibility of victories for The Donald, not just in the primaries but in the general election.

“If he gets elected, I’ll die,” she said simply.

Up on East 51st Street, just off Fifth Avenue and across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, another hat and scarf vendor had a Disabled American Veterans sign on his cart. He declined to give his name or particulars, but he was quick to offer a word of his own regarding Trump hosting a veterans event on Thursday night.


He was understandably dubious of Trump’s newfound fondness for those who served.

“Now he’s different,” the peddler said. “He’s born again.”

The peddler did not expect that this born-again Trump would now favor allowing disabled vets to sell their wares on the golden avenue where his tower stands.

“First class war vets, second class back-at-homes,” the peddler said.

He then added, “Go take a picture of the planters.”

He meant the large cement planters that Trump has placed outside the tower, not to ward off possible terrorists but to keep away peddlers.

As has been reported by The New York Times, Trump had used somewhat smaller planters to fill a marble bench in a stretch of the lobby that was ceded to the public in exchange for him being allowed to build 20 stories higher than zoning would have otherwise allowed.

City officials noted that the planters on the bench prevented the public from sitting there. Trump responded with a 1984 letter that presaged the ones he would write regarding disabled vet vendors.

“We have had tremendous difficulties with respect to the bench—drug addicts, vagrants, et cetera have come to the atrium in large numbers,” Trump wrote in the letter, as cited by the Times. “Additionally, all sorts of ‘horrors’ had been taking place that effectively ruined the beautiful ambience of the space which everyone loves so much.”

The city fined Trump, who subsequently removed the bench altogether. He replaced it with an elegant version of a hats and scarves stand such as disabled vets might set up on Fifth Avenue if they were allowed.

“THE TRUMP STORE,” the sign reads.

One item that no self-respecting disabled vet peddler would stock was on display on Wednesday afternoon: Trump’s book Crippled America. Vet peddlers who were crippled in service of America would likely only shake their heads on seeing the rest of the title.

How to Make America Great Again.

One disabled veteran who has been sidelined by medical troubles in recent days is Dondi McKellar. He was in the Navy during the 1980s, serving aboard the USS Boulder. He has been selling bubble blowers in the street since 2004.

“Everybody got their own thing, but bubbles make me happy,” he told The Daily Beast on Wednesday evening.

McKellar is the chairman of the veterans committee at the Street Vendor’s Project and an active participant in the effort by Veterans 4 Veterans to relax current regulations. The idea is to restore fully the promise the New York state Legislature made in 1894 that disabled veterans would be free to sell goods in the street.

“We’re part of why we have the freedom we have,” McKellar noted. “This country we served should give us the opportunity to come out and vend.”

He wishes big-business folks were able to recognize the vendors as fellow business folks.

“We have to start somewhere,” McKellar said.

Meanwhile, people in New York should keep an eye out for the yellow licenses or the blue licenses that signal a vendor is a disabled veteran.

“I would appreciate it,” McKellar said. “All my fellow veterans would as well if that would give you a reason to come over.”

He figures we should all rejoice at the thought of disabled veterans struggling to make their way on the same block as Trump Tower.

“It is what makes America great, we have such a great variety of everything,” McKellar said.

He does not expect that the day will come when Trump would welcome him.

“He wouldn’t have liked me in front of his establishment,” McKellar said.

He suspects Trump might be that rare person who proves immune to the charm of his bubbles, which seem to make almost everybody smile.

“If he gets upset with my bubbles…” McKellar began.

McKellar then said, “He get upset with Megyn Kelly, so I don’t put it past him.”