At 7:20 p.m., emergency lights flashing along East 46h Street confirmed that Donald Trump was nearing the Manhattan hotel that was his first big project.
Even someone egomaniacal as he could not have imagined when he was renovating the Grand Hyatt back in the late 1970s that he would someday be arriving at a Republican gala there as the party’s frontrunner for president.
The very idea would have seemed all the more fantastic because the Grand Hyatt project was only made possible by an unprecedented tax break acquired via his father’s connections with the Brooklyn Democratic machine.
But Donald Trump was hardly arriving in triumph on Thursday evening. He was instead rolling through the twilight up to a ramp leading to the hotel’s side entrance so as to avoid several hundred demonstrators out front.
He was not even in a limousine, but rather a black SUV with Washington, D.C., plates preceded and followed by police cars. Trump was concealed from view by deeply tinted windows. Nobody on the street was going to see him and shout, “It’s Trump!”
An NYPD supervisor called out orders for cops to clear the traffic ahead of the small motorcade.
“Shut that down! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Other cops moved aside the steel barricades at the foot of the ramp, and the small motorcade zoomed up it. The barricades were immediately replaced and the cops stood sentinel.
The side door arrival was only fitting for someone who last week became the first presidential candidate in history to be afraid to hold a homecoming rally in his hometown.
Of course, Trump—being Trump—had acted as if what the media obligingly described as a “homecoming rally” April 6 really was being held in the city where he had been born and raised.
“First of all, it’s great to be home!” he exulted to the crowd at the April 6 gathering. “This is home. It’s great to be home. We love New York.”
Too bad Trump was not, in fact, in his hometown at all. He was at a soundstage on suburban Bethpage, Long Island, outside New York City in every possible sense.
Trump could easily have held last week’s rally at a similar soundstage in Brooklyn or at some other venue within the city limits.
He might have even held it at the Grand Hyatt.
But to have had a homecoming in his hometown would have drawn protesters such as those who gathered outside the hotel on Thursday night upon hearing he would be among the candidates attending the gala. The protesters were not there because of Ted Cruz or John Kasich.
And the protesters are only one raucous measure of the low regard with which Trump is held in the city of New York.
Another came last year as he stood on a terrace of the Manhattan tower that is his actual home and headquarters.
On that September day, Trump had stepped out to watch Pope Francis ride past on the way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral just down Fifth Avenue. A huge crowd was also waiting to get a glimpse of the visiting pontiff, and those who chanced to see The Donald appear from inside his home pointed him out to others. Many erupted into boos.
“Feo! Feo!” hundreds chanted in Spanish. “Ugly! Ugly!”
Another indicator of Trump’s unpopularity in the city came Thursday from the glum expression of a peddler of Trump hats and Trump buttons who was attempting to sell his wares around the corner from the Hyatt.
The peddler, Jasper Small of Atowah, North Carolina, has been going where Trump goes, and he did big business at the “homecoming rally” in Bethpage.
“Very good,” Small reported.
But even though Small was well away from the protesters on Thursday, virtually none of the everyday New Yorkers who passed by evidenced the slightest interest in buying a Trump button or even a Make America Great Again hat.
“No good,” Small said.
A man paused and marveled that anybody would be selling Trump stuff in Trump’s hometown a dozen blocks from Trump Tower.
“Did you sell at least one?” the man asked. “Wow.”
“He’s not here today really for a rally,” Small said.
Another passerby asked if the Make America Great Again hats he was selling were made in the USA.
“No,” he said. “All made in China.”
Around the corner at the hotel’s front entrance—where an actual hometown hero would have arrived triumphant—a number of protesters were led out in handcuffs. They had apparently sought to pose as hotel guests.
Police briefly closed off the sidewalk as the protesters were driven away in a patrol wagon. The sidewalk was then reopened and, however many hundreds of other protesters were across the street, many more everyday people were simply trying to get home at the end of a workday.
A steady stream descended into the subway, where people of all backgrounds and ethnicities were crowding in together with no manifest conflict. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton once said that the truest symbol of New York is the center pole on the subway, which is grabbed by hands of every kind: manicured and grimy, dainty and tough, one atop the other, everybody generally getting along.
This week, The Washington Post reported that it had found avowed Trump supporters on the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island.
“This is Trump’s city, and these are his people,” the Post article said.
Hardly. Staten Island is a realm apart from the rest of the city and has its only significant concentration of conservative Republicans. Much of Staten Island has more in common with Bethpage than it does with much of Brooklyn, not to mention the Bronx.
At his rally on Long Island, Trump pledged as often before to keep out those other people by closing the border with Mexico. His people erupted into a chant that clearly delighted him.
“Build that wall! Build that wall!”
He held out his arms and spoke as if he really had come home.
“Ah, it never changes,” he said. “Hey, New York, it’s called New York. It never, ever will change.”
He was speaking of an immutable New York that exists only in his mind. The actual New York is constantly changing, a fabulous influx of races and nationalities and cultures, perpetually stirred by the subway system.
It is there, not on the Staten Island ferry, that true New York is to be found. More than a few New Yorkers would only clasp the center pole alongside Trump on the most crowded of trains, if even then.
One place in New York City where he was welcome was at the Republican gala at the Grand Hyatt, which he built thanks to old-fashioned Democratic machine corruption. The determining money in that project did not come from his father, as he said in his nostalgic speech to the event, but from the taxpayers.
As Trump spoke, the cops continued to guard the foot of the ramp by which he would make a getaway in his own city and ride the dozen blocks home to his tower.
Trump is expected to win big time in the Republican primary, Republicans being one of the city’s smaller minorities and Cruz having said things that should make it impossible for any genuine New Yorker to vote for him.
But if you want to appraise how Trump stands with the people of his hometown, forget the polls and remember the pole.