Long before there was Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted, there was Fat Jerry.
That 1995 bit of name-calling by Donald Trump was aimed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democrat from New York who now serves as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The insult may not make much sense to those who have begun taking notice of Nadler only now that he has sent out more than 80 letters to individuals and entities asking for a wide range of documents relating to their dealings with Trump.
But the present Nadler is a person transformed since he underwent stomach-reduction surgery in 2001 and shed more than 100 pounds. He had been noshing himself toward a peak weight of 328 pounds back when he first roused Trump’s ire.
Their original object of contention was Television City, a metropolis within a metropolis that Trump proposed on a 52-acre tract he acquired on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1980s. The initial plan was for eight towers and 5,700 apartments, as well as television and movie studios.
Nadler met with Trump as the state assemblyman who then represented the area. Trump excitedly told him that the centerpiece would be a 150-story building, the tallest in the world. The lower floors were to be NBC’s new headquarters. Trump would of course occupy a palatial penthouse apartment at the very top.
“Above the clouds,” he told Nadler.
“New Yorkers want the tallest building,” Trump also said. “And so do I.”
Nadler was more of the opinion that New Yorkers wanted an affordable apartment. He opposed Trump’s project, viewing it as a neighborhood-destroyer. Enough of the neighborhood agreed with him that he was elected to Congress after the incumbent, Rep. Ted Weiss, died the day before the primary in 1992.
Mayor Ed Koch had also opposed the project and thought he had killed it when he used generous tax abatements such as Trump had wanted for Television City to convince NBC to remain at Rockefeller Center. Koch engaged in a bit of name-calling himself as he made clear his feelings regarding Trump.
“Piggy! Piggy! Piggy!” Koch said.
Whatever else Trump might have been, he was also determined. He nixed the world’s tallest building and reduced the number of apartments planned to 4,000. But, lest anyone think he was defeated, he changed the name of the project from Television City to Trump City. He changed it again to Riverside South as he sought to finance the project with a $356 million low-interest loan guaranteed by a federal program designed to generate low- and moderate-income housing.
The Housing and Urban Development inspector general issued a 1997 report that called the proposed financing into question. The IG noted that more than 80 percent of the apartments in the Trump project would be affordable only to upper-income individuals.
“Trump’s mortgage guaranty application is purely a ploy to get taxpayers to foot the bill for his luxury housing mega-development,” Nadler said in a statement.
The IG also noted that Trump’s application for mortgage insurance had been refused because the collateral he put up included land that had been promised to the city as a park in an effort to sell the proposal.
“I congratulate HUD for piercing one of Trump’s many scams,” Nadler was quoted saying.
Nadler was joined by Sen. John McCain in opposing the financing. McCain gave a speech from the Senate floor that may have still rankled Trump in 2016. Maybe the truth is that Trump likes war heroes who don’t challenge one of his scams.
“The Department of Housing and Urban Development is processing an application from a team of developers, headed by the venerable Donald Trump,” McCain began.
McCain noted that the loan guarantee would entitle Trump to “a vast array of municipal tax benefits, which one group calculates to be in the range of nearly $4.5 million per ‘needy’ individual assisted.”
“Not exactly what most Americans would consider cost-effective use of government assistance,” McCain said. “I certainly have nothing against luxury apartments nor do I have anything against very successful project developers, including Mr. Trump. I do object, however, to asking the taxpayer to bear the risk of a development for one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the country, to help finance a project that will predominantly benefit upper-income Americans.”
McCain noted, “Congressman Nadler, who represents the area in the House and who is a member on the other side of the aisle, does not consider the area around the development site to be blighted and he opposes the project.”
McCain went on, a principled conservative Republican expressing an opinion he shared with the ultra-liberal Nadler: “The Donald Trumps of the world can more than afford to bear the risk of their endeavors, and should not be indemnified with taxpayer dollars.”
By that point, Trump had already gone into multiple corporate bankruptcies. He was rescued from personal bankruptcy when a Hong Kong group led by the Cheng family provided the needed financing.
But Trump was not done with seeking public funds. He sought to have taxpayers spend $350 million to move the West Side Highway so that it no longer ran between his development site and the Hudson River. Nadler was among those who noted that this same stretch of highway had just undergone a $70 million renovation.
“It’s a sin against taxpayers,” Nadler said, terming the proposed highway project “a pork barrel boondoggle.”
Nadler introduced and single-handedly marshaled legislation that ruled out any federal funding for the project beyond what had already been allocated for a feasibility study.
Trump responded with name-calling and spin.
“Fat Jerry Nadler is doing me a favor,” he said. “He’s too stupid to realize it. He’s making me a lot of money.”
Trump argued that moving the highway to allow direct access to the waterfront would have only been a concession to the community and not an effort to make his property more appealing and therefore valuable. He said the highway as presently located would accord a fortune in free advertising once the project was built.
“I have to say we get a bigger benefit from leaving the highway where it is, because when cars go by they will look at our masterpiece,” Trump was quoted saying.
But Trump did not yet have a base that let him name-call with impunity. And, being a mix of every possible kind of person, New York prizes fairness and tolerance more than most places.
Trump ended up saying he had only referred to Nadler as “Fat Jerry” out of concern for his health.
“I did it for a reason,” he told the New York Daily News. “I really feel that whatever can inspire him to go out and lose that tremendous amount of weight should be done.”
Trump continued, “To be honest with you, he’s a walking time bomb and if I can convince him to put himself, not in great, but in reasonable shape, I’m doing great service to him and his family.”
And people say Trump is devoid of empathy!
Surely, only modesty prevented him from claiming credit when Nadler had the weight-reduction surgery.
In the meantime, construction had begun on a scaled-down version of Television City, turned Trump City, turned Riverside South. Trump only owned 30 percent of it, but three of the buildings were emblazoned with words that made you think otherwise.
The developer who had once spoken of living above the clouds now sought to draw attention to his far more modest development by hiring magician David Blaine to spend seven days buried alive in a water-filled coffin at Trump Place. Some 75,000 are said to have come to gawk. Blaine afterward reported having a vision that was very New York as Nadler knows the city, but very un-Trumpian.
“Every race, every religion, every age group banding together,” Blaine exulted.
Nadler never responded to Trump’s name-calling, but you can be sure he never forgot it.
And now, Fat Jerry has a new name whose ramifications Trump is only beginning to learn.