Trump’s first event, hosted by billionaire real estate developer and fitness chains owner Stephen Ross, was not without controversy. This week businesses owned by Ross have been boycotted by Trump critics, including by some celebrities, who were furious about the Trump reelection fundraiser at Ross’s Hamptons home.
Before leaving for New York on Friday morning, Trump defended Ross.
“He’s a great friend of mine; he’s a very successful guy. We were competitors but friends in real estate in New York in the old days,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “He’s probably more inclined to be a liberal if you want to know the truth, but he likes me, he respects me.”
Trump critics called on people to cancel their memberships at Ross-owned clubs such as Equinox Fitness and SoulCycle. Their parent firm, Related Companies, also eateries such as Bluestone Lane Coffee, Momofuku and &pizza.
Trump dismissed the backlash Ross is facing over the fundraiser, saying, “it just makes Steve much hotter.”
“I didn’t speak to him yet; I’ll see him in a little while,” Trump said. “The controversy makes Steve Ross hotter. He’ll figure that out in about a week. But he’s very happy … a lot of people are going.”
Ross, in a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday, said he will speak up when he disagrees with Trump, and called himself “an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability.”
Equinox and SoulCycle sought to distance their brands from Ross, putting out a joint statement that Ross “is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business.”
The cost to attend the fundraiser at Ross’s home ran as high as $250,000, which got a donor a private roundtable discussion with Trump in addition to a lunch and a photo.
Michelle Ye Hee Lee contributed to this report.