New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump made the rounds of the morning network talk shows Friday to defend his decision to brand his 96-story skyscraper along the Chicago River with a massive sign bearing his name as Mayor Rahm Emanuel all but acknowledged there’s nothing he can do about it.
One day after Emanuel called the TRUMP sign “tasteless,” Trump said the sign was “fully approved” by City Hall and that the majority of Chicagoans support it.
“Everybody loves it. We have people who just love it,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today Show.
“We’re getting phone calls literally by the hundreds and thousands — including tweets on Twitter.”
On the morning talk show on CBS, Trump took a thinly-veiled shot at Emanuel — to whom the developer made a $50,000 campaign contribution in 2010 — for even worrying about a sign his administration approved.
“I just think that Chicago has other problems that they should be worried about — not a sign,” Trump said, apparently referring to crime, education and the city’s $20 billion pension crisis.
Hours later, Emanuel all but acknowledged that there was nothing he could do to force Trump to take the sign down or even shrink it. The mayor said his focus is on preventing signs like it from popping up along the Chicago River.
“I want to make sure, on a future basis, that we have the planning, development and all of the ordinances in a way that reflect the city’s beautiful architecture. And if we have to tighten that up, I’ve asked my staff to look at it so a situation like this doesn’t emerge in the future,” the mayor said.
“People from all over the world come and are just shocked by the beauty of our architecture, the beauty of…the lake, the lakefront and the incredible river that runs through the city of Chicago and all our parks. We’re the City in a Garden. And I want to preserve that…We’re gonna be looking at things in the future.”
Pressed to describe what’s wrong with the TRUMP sign, Emanuel said, “The sign scars that architecture, beauty and taste with a tasteless sign.”
For Emanuel, the Trump sign controversy has been yet another pleasant diversion from bigger problems. It’s just like the exchange of sarcastic tweets with comedian Jimmy Fallon that enticed the Tonight Show host to take the Polar Plunge into Lake Michigan during the dead of a brutal winter.
With Fallon, there were countless one-liners — most of them exchanged on Twitter — between a comedian who does that for a living and a mayor who prides himself on making wise-guy remarks at somebody else’s expense.
With Trump, it started with a mayoral statement chastising the New York City developer for plastering an “architecturally tasteless sign” on an “architecturally tasteful building.”
The statement said the mayor has “asked to staff to determine if there are any options available for further changes” in the sign. But, it also noted that the sign was “already reduced in size and scope” and “does comply” with a planned development ordinance and the City Council sign order.
The sign on the Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago’s second-tallest building, spans 2,891 square feet along the Chicago River.
That’s down from the 3,600 square feet authorized by the City Council in 2009, before the sign was negotiated downward.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has said that he, too, would have preferred the façade of the building to be “clean” with no sign at all.
But Trump “likes to make big statements,” which is why his name is “large and in lights” on all of the buildings he built. Since the sign Trump proposed complies with the city’s zoning code, Reilly said he had no choice but to approve it.
“We had a situation a couple of years ago when one of my colleagues didn’t like a business identification sign like this one and refused to approve it legislatively. The city was sued and we lost. Because of that, the Law Department’s general advice is to pinch your nose and approve these things, even if they’re, in some cases, distasteful,” said Reilly, who got a $5,000 campaign contribution from Trump in 2010.
“This is something he’s come to expect. For the critics who don’t like it, I tend to agree, but he probably would have sued the city had he not gotten that approval,” he said.
Reilly attributed some of the controversy to Trump’s outsized personality and the, “You’re fired” public persona he’s built on the television show, “The Apprentice.”
But the alderman said, “If you look just a little bit further west down the river, you’ll see that the Chicago Sun-Times sign [at 350 N. Orleans] is actually larger.”
Emanuel and Reilly have recently clashed over the mayor’s plan to raise property taxes by $250 million to shore up two of four city employee pension funds.