Payten Eades, 9, of the District skates with her cousin Audrey Harvey, 4, of Mequon, Wis., at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena early this month. (J. Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)
Columnist

It’s time for the dealmaker in chief to take it old school, right here in D.C.

President Trump wants to get something built. He wants to fix what so many others have called unfixable. He wants to make a promise and keep it — and bask in a cheering crowd’s adoration, too.

It hasn’t been really working out so far, has it?

It can still happen, and here’s how:

Build. The. Rink.

Sound familiar?


Jaromir Jagr, then with the NHL’s New York Rangers, in 2005 at Wollman Rink in Central Park. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Let me remind y’all of one of Trump’s greatest stunts — the Wollman ice rink.

It has been argued that the rink was the pivotal event that began the transformation of a second-tier real estate developer into President Trump.

Wollman Rink had been a beloved fixture in Central Park and one of New York City’s iconic settings for decades, until it needed a facelift. But its calamitous and scandal-plagued reconstruction became the symbol of the city’s government dysfunction in the 1980s.

It had been a six-year horror show when Trump swaggered onto the scene with a letter to Mayor Ed Koch.

“Dear Ed,” the May 28, 1986, letter began. “For many years, I have watched with amazement as New York City repeatedly failed on its promises to complete and open the Wollman Skating Rink. Building the rink, which essentially involves the pouring of a concrete slab over coolant piping, should take no more than four months’ time.”


The Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the District’s only indoor public ice rink, in 2016. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

Trump offered to do it himself. He’d even foot the bill. And then run the rink.

“Who Can Fix the Wollman Rink Faster? City and Trump Agree It’s Trump,” said a New York Times headline a week after Trump wrote that letter.

Koch accepted the offer, though with some caveats. And that’s when it became a delicious Gotham-style drama.

The two sparred for the spotlight all 12 years the mayor was in office.

In his memoir, Koch called Trump a “blowhard.” He worried that Trump’s offer was merely a caper to turn Wollman Rink into Trump Rink.

‘’Remember,” Koch cautioned in his responding letter, “the Bible says that those who give charity anonymously or, if not anonymously, then without requiring the use of their names, are twice blessed.”

Trump at one point called the mayor a “moron” and once said: “Koch has achieved something quite miraculous. He’s presided over an administration that is both pervasively corrupt and totally incompetent.”

Koch, meanwhile, called Trump “greedy, greedy, greedy.”

In one essay found by his family after his death, Koch wrote: “Donald Trump is one of the least likable people I have met during the 12 years that I served as mayor. It is incomprehensible to me that for some people he has become a folk hero.”

Trump didn’t put his name on the rink, but he did negotiate for the right to run it.

The Times headline was right.

Trump built it. And, two months ahead of schedule and $775,000 under budget, Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton cut the ribbon and glided across the ice on Nov. 1. 1986.

Trump has been basking in the story ever since, pulling it out on the 2016 campaign trail, using it as his No. 1 example of dealmaking and government being run like a business. Plenty of critics have argued, however, that much of the work on the rink had already been finished by the time he got there.

Nevertheless, it’s the ultimate Trump story. And his company makes millions on the rink to this day.

So why should Trump bother with this whole morally charged, ethically challenged, popularly unwanted wall business on the border with Mexico when he can return to the old glory days and get a win right here in Washington — no Air Force One trip required?

The Fort Dupont Ice Arena has been struggling for years. It is the only indoor ice rink in a city that currently holds the Stanley Cup. It’s a place where more than 3,000 kids speed-skate, figure-skate, play hockey and find a safe place that won’t turn them away, regardless of their wealth. And it’s so neglected. I hear all the time from out-of-town hockey teams how much they hate going there for a game.

“Why are there all those holes in the ceiling?” a player asked my son at a peewee hockey game Sunday night.

Supporters have been sparring with the city over a rebuild and expansion for years. Just a couple of weeks ago, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) threatened to pull the long-promised funding for the rink.

She thawed on that threat last week, promising $21 million for the rebuild only if the nonprofit group that runs the rink, Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena, raises $5 million itself — $3 million by Feb. 1, 2020.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis — who hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser during the campaign and never made it to the Trump White House with his Stanley Cup-winning team (and it wasn’t because they don’t like “hamberders”) — tossed in a paltry $100,000 of his own cash.

See where this is going?

If Trump pulls a Wollman Rink here, he’ll get to show up D.C.’s mayor (remember, the one who didn’t want his military parade tearing up our city streets), he gets to shame the billionaire Leonsis, and he gets to build something.

I bet a lot of D.C.’s overwhelmingly Democratic voters might manage to celebrate the move.

Forget about the wall.

Build the rink!

Twitter: @petulad