In the wake of The New York Times' recent exposé of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump's tax evasion and bankruptcy scandal, Lorraine Abelow, Founder and President of the boutique PR agency Abelow PR, reveals her experiences with the real estate mogul. "Working with him was like being in a reality distortion field," says Ms. Abelow.
Right before Mr. Trump's first bankruptcy went public, Ms. Abelow worked with "the Donald" in promoting the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City during a seven-day grand opening extravaganza in 1990. "Even then, Trump existed in his own reality distortion field," recalls Ms. Abelow. "He was trying to suppress the news of his bankruptcy."
She continues, saying, "He told me point blank, 'Keep that story out of the Wall Street Journal.'" Although Ms. Abelow was aware that the Freedom of the Press is a First Amendment right of the Constitution, she knew that telling him this would only fall on completely deaf ears.
Luckily, Trump couldn't stop the story from running. Or, as he put it, he couldn't "kill it." The article became front page news in The Wall Street Journal, written by a reporter whom Ms. Abelow is now friends with. "At the time, Trump was receiving a monthly allowance of $450,000, which seemed astounding to me," says Ms. Abelow.
PR Firm Expert Recalls Trump's Unprofessional Grand Opening
During the Trump Taj Mahal's week-long press event, Ms. Abelow describes its press party as something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on LSD, except with caviar and crayfish. "It was all piled high on a table," she remembers. "And because I have a smaller frame, I couldn't reach it."
It was there where she and other members of the press were, as Ms. Abelow describes it, "locked" inside, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for seven days. "I only got out of the building once in those seven days for 15 minutes to breathe some fresh air on Atlantic City's boardwalk," says Ms. Abelow, making sure to note that, at the time, was terribly run down.
Trump also kept the press at complete arm's length. There was little to no interaction. Ms. Abelow relates that he only came into the press room once to ask "Does everybody have enough to eat?"
The one time Trump walked through the lobby, there was the "flying wedge" of the press behind him. "They went after him with cameras and microphones, trying to get a couple of words," states Ms. Abelow. But since they never got the chance to speak to Trump, she and her team could only write statements out of the blue and from talks with members of the Trump Organization.
A Bizarre First Impression And A Shady Fundraiser
Abelow can trace her first encounter with Mr. Trump to her nascent years as a PR professional in 1980. She was 26. "We were sitting on the stoop opposite the Grand Hyatt New York when it was still under construction," explains Ms. Abelow. "We were waiting for Paul Goldberger of The New York Times to arrive for a walk through of the site.
Mr. Trump, then 29, turned to her and said "I need somebody like you." Ms. Abelow says: "the comment just didn't register. He seemed unimpressive at the time and, quite frankly, I thought the building was tacky-looking."
In 1993, Ms. Abelow began establishing her own boutique PR firm. Her first project just so happened to be the opening of the Trump International Hotel & Tower on Columbus Circle in New York City. "That was a relatively easy launch because the lobby in the building only had room for 20 journalists and camera crews," she explains.
Trump had a fundraiser after the launch at Lincoln Center with Aretha Franklin. "It was nice," comments Ms. Abelow. "But after the recent news regarding the Donald J. Trump Foundation not being properly filed as a non-profit with the State of New York, God knows where the money really went."
Experience With Four Seasons Hotels Was Polar Opposite
In the intervening years with Trump, Ms. Abelow had the opportunity to work directly with the founder of the Four Seasons Hotels, Isadore Sharp, whom she found to be the complete opposite of Donald Trump. "He had no airs, conducted himself in accordance to 'The Golden Rule,' had the highest moral standards and knew everyone by name," she says.
When Ms. Abelow started representing the now-renowned hotel group, there were only two properties in the United States. Under Mr. Sharp's leadership, the company grew and Ms. Abelow had the privilege of promoting over 27 of their properties, including the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and the Four Seasons Tokyo. She was also the point person for the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York.
To Ms. Abelow, Mr. Sharp was a stunning contrast to Mr. Trump. On one hand, there was a renowned hotelier, and on the other, there was a tasteless individual who created the Trump Taj Mahal, which, Ms. Abelow describes as, "a bad dream of Indian architecture going crazy" and "a kid drawing in a coloring book with colors that don't match."
In retrospect, Ms. Abelow realizes that she did get her start in public relations due in part to that first project with Trump on 42nd Street. Because of this, Ms. Abelow believes she does owe him something. "However, I still find Trump to be an egomaniac and a narcissist of untold proportions," she says. "Just as I did then, I think he treats everything, including his candidacy, like the Me, Myself, and I Show starring, who else? But me!"
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