Now that Donald Trump really is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, it has become necessary to contemplate who might be part of a Trump administration—people such as his son-in-law, New York City real estate’s golden boy, Jared Kushner.
Like Trump, Kushner had the business savvy from a young age to be born into a successful real-estate dynasty. He went to Harvard after his politically-connected father Charles Kushner made a $2.5 million donation to the school. Charles built the family business into a billion-dollar company, mostly focused on New Jersey, before pleading guilty in 2004 to charges of tax fraud, intimidating witnesses, and misleading federal officials.
But by that time, Jared was well on his way to taking over the Kushner Companies, which he expanded into New York. In 2006, while still a grad student at NYU, he bought the New York Observer for $10 million. (Last month, the Observer endorsed Donald Trump.) Over the past decade, Kushner has invested heavily in neighborhoods like DUMBO, where just this month he and a partner dropped $700 million on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ colossal “Watchtower” building, and the East Village, where he is the second-largest landlord.
A profile in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek suggests that Kushner should be seen as a “contemporary Jack Kennedy, the attractive son of a rich family with the resources to become a force behind the scenes in Washington and even a potential candidate for national office.” The comparison to a Democrat, at least, is apt: Analysis of campaign finance data by The Real Deal found that 40 of the 44 donations of $1,000 or more made in Kushner’s name between 1992 and 2004 went to Democrats; in 2000 and 2003, he donated $6,000 to Hillary Clinton; and in 2008, his paper endorsed Obama. From Bloomberg:
It’s not clear if Kushner supports Trump’s more outlandish ideas, such as banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country to prevent terrorism. He’s said virtually nothing publicly about his father-in-law’s presidential aspirations other than telling the New York Times last year that he thinks Trump would “be great.” But Kushner has been laboring behind the scenes to get him elected. He helped set up a meeting in January with Trump and about a dozen Republican leaders to try to build a relationship with the party’s establishment. Earlier this year, Kushner also attempted to smooth things over between the Trump campaign and his friend Rupert Murdoch, who was unhappy with the candidate’s attacks on Fox News.
“He has a beautiful, brilliant wife,” Myers Mermel, a friend of Kushner’s and a real-estate executive himself, said to Bloomberg. “He is clearly a man of faith. These are all values that contradict the negative image put forth by the Republican Party as New York values. He has the values that the Republican Party espouses.”
Kushner’s father-in-law has sung his praises on the campaign trail, as well. “Jared is a great young man, went to Harvard, very smart, doing a fantastic job in business, he’s in the real estate business and has done an amazing job,” Trump said at a campaign rally in January, describing him as a “very, very successful real estate entrepreneur in Manhattan.”
Kushner has also been accused of tenant harassment—trying to force tenants in rent-regulated units out of buildings he owns, so he can renovate them and list them at higher monthly rates. More often than not, however, he buys buildings that have already gone through this process from a man named Ben “Sledgehammer” Shaoul, president of Magnum Real Estate Group, who local blogger EV Grieve calls “the face of the hyper-luxurification of the East Village.”
Shaoul, who had acquired the buildings in 2010 and 2011 for about $25 million, “really preyed on the infirm,” says Hengen, who recalls a property manager screaming at her when there was an electrical fire in her ceiling the night she got out of the hospital. He changed the front-door lock code during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 without informing tenants, says David Dupuis, who has lived in the building since 1983. “I was coming home and couldn’t get in.”
“His people were psychotic, screaming on the phone,” says another Fourth Street resident who asked to remain anonymous. “Dust, noise, unprotected workers. It was two years of hell,” adds another, who had his phone service cut off for four months when renovation work damaged the cables. “People left in droves.”
By the time Shaoul was through, only five of the 24 apartments at 118 East 4th still had rent-stabilized tenants. In the 45-unit building next door, less than 10 remained. Shaoul told The Real Deal in 2013 that he was “redeveloping a portfolio of under-managed assets” and planned to sell them to a long-term investor—a sophisticated way of saying “emptying them and flipping them.
As it happens, tenant harassment is something of a Trump family tradition: Donald Trump was accused of harassing tenants throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. (So too was his father.) In fact, in 1973, the Justice Department sued Donald Trump for racial discrimination. In 1985, when New York City sued him for mistreating tenants, the Times called Trump a “slumlord.”
Anyway, whether Kushner is really as “great” as his father-in-law says he is remains up for debate; if anything, his behavior as a New York City landlord seems average.