NEW YORK -- Donald J. Trump wants you to know that his opulent Fifth Avenue skyscraper, Trump Tower, is "the hottest building in the world." His new yacht is "the greatest yacht in the world; there's never been anything like it." Nor is there "any other private plane in the sky" comparable to the 727 in which he travels the globe.
As if all this weren't enough -- the hotels, the casinos, the $12 million penthouse apartment, the new limousine being named after him -- Trump is clearly enjoying speculation that he might seek the highest office in the land.
"When I go up to New Hampshire -- I'm not running for president, by the way -- I got the best crowd, the best of everything in terms of reception," he says. "The politicians go up and get a moderate audience. I go up and they're scalping tickets. You heard that? They're scalping tickets. Why? Because people don't want to be ripped off, and this country is being ripped off. I think if I ran, I'd win."
The boy wonder of New York real estate, now a ripe 41, may not be seeking the White House just yet. But Trump, a Republican, is perceived as so hot by congressional Democrats that they are trying to get him to switch parties and become their leading fundraiser.
For now, however, he is granting interviews to promote his forthcoming book, "Trump: The Art of the Deal," surely the most remarkable autobiography ever written by a megadeveloper who got rich building palaces for the rich.
In his typically understated style, Trump describes how he outnegotiated bankers, builders, lawyers and contractors in erecting such glittering projects as Trump Tower, Trump Parc, Trump Plaza and Trump's Castle. (Why the obsession with the Trump name? "It sells like hotcakes. What can I say?" Trump replies.)
It is a narrative filled with superlatives and triumph over adversity. But the kid from Queens tells us amazingly little about his personal life, even by the standards of tycoon autobiographies.
We learn that he punched out his music teacher in second grade, that he yearned for a larger challenge than helping his father build middle-class apartments in Brooklyn and Queens, that he moved to Manhattan and joined the exclusive Le Club to meet "the sort of people with whom I'd eventually work on deals."
Beyond that, we are told only that Trump has a can of tomato juice for lunch and rarely socializes because he considers it "a waste of time."
"Donald Trump's personal life is not important to him," says Tony Schwartz, the New York journalist who collaborated on the book. "He lives for his business, day and night. It is not coincidental that his wife, father and brother all work in the business."
"To work for Donald you absolutely have to love him, because he will absolutely drive you crazy," says Blanche Sprague, executive vice president of the Trump Organization. "There are days when I could cheerfully bludgeon him to death. He starts calling you at 6 in the morning and finishes at 11 at night."
About his business dealings, Trump the author is a bit more candid. Recounting his many invitations to charity events, he says: "I don't kid myself . . . It's not because I'm such a great guy. The reason is that people who run charities know that I've got wealthy friends and can get them to buy tables."
He describes how he cleverly promoted Trump Tower, where such celebrities as Johnny Carson and Steven Spielberg bought apartments, as "larger than life . . . I play to people's fantasies . . . The more unattainable the apartments seemed, the more people wanted them."
The same might be said about Donald Trump the public figure.
He professes to dislike talking about himself, but one wall of his 26th-floor Trump Tower office displays Trump cover stories from the likes of Business Week, Fortune and The New York Times Magazine, each in a gold frame. His recent Newsweek cover has not yet been mounted.
Trump boasted as recently as 1984 that he garners plenty of attention without a publicist, although in fact he has retained a New York public relations firm for a dozen years.
Trump concedes he has a "thin skin" about negative press. He wrote a nasty letter to The New York Times' architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, and filed a $500 million libel suit against a critic for the Chicago Tribune.
"I don't like people that criticize that haven't done it themselves," Trump says.
Brash? Arrogant? Trump has heard these adjectives before. Yet even critics concede that he is a master showman. He once had a fleet of bulldozers dig up dirt from one side of an Atlantic City construction site and dump it on the other to convince investors he was making progress on a casino.
He sits atop a $3 billion empire and seems to have a Midas touch. He had the instincts to begin renovating what is now the Grand Hyatt Hotel in 1975, when New York City was nearly bankrupt. More recently, after heavily investing in takeover stocks, Trump got out of the market before the Oct. 19 collapse -- a fact he was not shy about telling the world.
He is displays an uncanny ability to put a positive spin on any development. Take what Trump calls "the best undeveloped real estate site in the world," a 13-block tract of land along the Hudson River where he plans to erect "the world's tallest building" as part of a sprawling development.
For 18 months, Trump has been trying to lure NBC to make its headquarters there instead of moving to New Jersey. The Television City project was a major selling point for Trump as he tried to neutralize community opposition and convince his archenemy, Mayor Edward Koch, to approve a $1 billion tax subsidy.
But now that he has broken off negotiations with NBC, Trump says Television City was "just a small section of the job, less than 10 acres." Besides, he says, "I never liked the concept of having a three- or four-block building without a window in it . . . Anybody that signs NBC will lose a lot of money, and I don't like losing money."
Trump is characteristically confident that he'll win approval for the huge West Side project, even though he's no longer sure what he wants to do with it -- perhaps a Tivoli-style amusement park, or even some moderate-income housing, as Koch and others have urged him to consider.
The book continues his long-running feud with Koch, whom Trump has called a "moron," a "disaster" and a "bully" (Koch in turn has assailed the developer as "greedy," "piggy" and worse.) Trump gloats that he "beat the hell out of Ed Koch" over a contested tax break for Trump Tower, and crows over how he rebuilt a Central Park ice skating rink in four months after the city had botched the job for six years.
But the book never really explains Trump's visceral dislike for the mayor. Could it be he cannot countenance someone as outspoken and opinionated as himself?
"I consider myself to be a very loyal guy, perhaps some people would say almost to a fault," Trump says. "You look at Ed Koch, and every time one of his friends gets in trouble . . . he's out knocking the hell out of them. I don't believe in that."
Trump's first loyalty is to his family. He learned his craft from his father, Fred Trump, who sent him out with brawny rent collectors to teach him how to deal with recalcitrant tenants. He put his wife Ivana, a former model from Czechoslovakia, in charge of Trump's Castle in Atlantic City. And when 9-year-old Donny calls, Trump says, "I always take calls from my kids, no matter what I'm doing."
Still, why does he feel the need for not only the Manhattan apartment and a $4 million house in Greenwich, Conn., but also a 118-room estate in Palm Beach? Why does he compare his Trump Tower penthouse to Versailles and brag about having "the finest craftsmen in Italy hand-carve 27 solid marble columns for the living room," which is 80 feet long?
"He's driven by this constant need to produce something perfect," Sprague says. Or maybe it's a kind of inherited neurosis, as Trump says in the book, adding: "I like thinking big . . . Most people think small."
But Trump can think small when it comes to saving a few thousand dollars. Eric Silverstein, whose sign-painting company was a minor contractor on Trump Plaza, told Newsweek that Trump's brother Robert took him into one of the hotel's bathrooms, told him that his work was shoddy and said that he could settle his contract for 50 cents on the dollar, or else he could sue. He settled.
Nor is Trump afraid of litigation. He sued one Trump Tower contractor for "total incompetence." When Hilton Hotels sued him for holding back $5 million over the purchase price on the casino that is now Trump's Castle, Trump quickly countersued, saying Hilton was responsible for construction defects that cost him far more. And when Trump and Holiday Inns clashed as partners over management of Trump Plaza, he bought the company's interest and then started buying up its stock.
Is Donald Trump difficult to work with?
"I deal with the toughest, smartest people in the world," Trump says, straightening up in his chair. "If they think Donald Trump can be walked on, if they think Donald Trump is a rollover, like most people are, the litigation will increase tenfold . . . It's very important in life to establish yourself not to be a patsy, and if you don't, you don't end up sitting in this chair."
There are two places in "The Art of the Deal" where Trump actually concedes the possibility of error, in part because coauthor Schwartz insisted he confront every controversy. ("Is the book self-serving? In many places, yes," Schwartz says. "But it's not a sanitized version.")
One involved Trump's 1980 destruction of two Art Deco sculptures that were part of the exterior of the Bonwit Teller building, which Trump was demolishing so he could speed up demolition of a building to make way for Trump Tower. Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art had asked him to donate the sculptures, Trump ordered them destroyed. He declared in 1984 that he was "bored" with hearing about the sculptures, but he expresses regret in the book: "Frankly, I was young, and perhaps in too much of a hurry." But Trump adds that publicity over the controversy may have "ended up as a plus ... in selling Trump Tower."
The other instance was Trump's long and unsuccessful attempt to evict tenants from their rent-controlled apartments at 100 Central Park South so he could raze the building and put up luxury condos. Trump hired an aggressive management company and services began to deteriorate. He tinned up the windows of vacant apartments and offered them as shelter for some of the city's homeless.
Trump says the wealthier tenants were simply trying to "blackmail" him to protect sweetheart deals, such as the fashion designer who pays $985 a month for a a six-room duplex overlooking the park. But he concedes that some tenants live on modest incomes and that he mishandled the situation.
Trump finally settled with most of the tenants. And -- surprise -- he says he's glad the dispute forced him to renovate the building, since land values have soared and "I'll ultimately earn a profit of more than $100 million."
Despite this good fortune, Trump is still trying to evict Suzanne Blackmer, a 74-year-old former actress, from her $203-a-month apartment. Trump charges that the apartment is not her primary residence and that Blackmer really lives in a 150-year-old mansion in her home town, Salisbury, N.C.
While there is conflicting evidence about where Blackmer does legal business -- and Trump won the latest round in court -- no one disputes that her North Carolina house was gutted by fire in 1984 and that Blackmer has lived full time at 100 Central Park South for the last three years. Trump's lawyer says that is irrelevant because the eviction proceedings began earlier.Says Blackmer: "He wants to buy up al l of New York. The man is a greedy s lob."
Trump replies that "it's hard to feel overly sorry" for people who use their rent-controlled apartments for shopping sprees in New York.
In any event, Trump doesn't want people to think of him as a heartless landlord. "I could tell you -- and it's probably not going to appear in the story -- of things where I've taken no rent from tenants for many, many months because they couldn't afford to pay the rent," he says.
In recent months, Trump has begun to address a more global agenda. He rails against Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, saying the U.S. military is subsidizing them by policing the Persian Gulf, and complains that Japan's trade policy is taking America to the cleaners.
There is in all this a hint that perhaps Trump realizes there are larger issues than choosing the color of the marble for his newest atrium. Yet for all his business acumen, he seems to have little appreciation of the difficulties he might face as a political candidate -- a wealthy casino operator who defends tax shelters, assails rent control and supports massive public subsidies for developers.
Still, Donald Trump finds it impossible to believe that the man with the world's best apartment, yacht, plane, a man who will soon be riding around in "the most opulent stretch limousine made" -- the $80,000 modified Cadillac to be called the Trump car -- would not be an unstoppable political force.
"People don't want to be taken advantage of," Trump says. "They know this country will not be taken advantage of for one minute if I were involved."