March 20th, 2017
By Jason Silverstein
Jimmy Breslin took a look at one of New York’s biggest characters, Donald Trump, and saw a chump.
The legendary columnist, who died Sunday, was an original champion of the working class, using his space in the Daily News and other papers to spotlight heroes and villains for ordinary New Yorkers.
And many years before Trump’s unprecedented rise to the presidency, Breslin summed up the fellow Queens boy as an enemy of the people.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Breslin saw through Trump’s worst instincts — his bullying and bragging, his cheapskate scams, his abuses of the press and the public — while most metro media marveled at the real estate mogul as a symbol of success.
One of Breslin’s earliest mentions of Trump avoided even using the name that would soon be screamed from front pages and skyscrapers worldwide.
In a 1982 Daily News column, Breslin brushed past “a young builder named Junior with a Big Ego,” who had recently made a famous but fruitless bid to buy the newspaper.
“His civic responsibility in the past consisted of getting tax abatements,” Breslin mused about the man who would become a daily fixture in the city’s tabloids.
In a series of Newsday columns years later, which the paper republished Sunday, Breslin unleashed harsh truths about Trump that have only gained more currency since the tycoon took the White House.
“Trump, in the crinkling of an eye, senses better than anyone the insecurity of people, that nobody knows whether anything is good or bad until they are told, and he is quite willing to tell them immediately,” Breslin wrote in a 1988 column about Trump’s purchase of an airline, which turned out to be one of his biggest business failures.
Breslin saw Trump as a Queens guy running “crap games” while a hungry public admired him for “the highest buildings, the most fantastic dealings” and even “personal presidential abilities.”
In later columns, Breslin remained outraged by one Trump-ism more than any other: His manipulation of the media.
After Trump took out a full-page newspaper ad in 1989 calling for the executions of the (ultimately innocent) “Central Park Five” suspects, Breslin advised readers, “beware always of the loudmouth taking advantage of the situation and appealing to a crowd’s meanest nature.”
He said Trump touted tough talk that could only come “from someone who walks around with bodyguards.”
Breslin predicted — let’s see if this sounds familiar — that Trump surely sank himself with this latest scandal, “for all demagogues ultimately do that.”
Instead, Trump kept being Trump, and Breslin kept warning his readers year after year.
By 1990, Breslin witnessed how reporters were so taken with Trump that they’d swallow any story he shoved down their throats. It was fake news made to order.
“Donald Trump handles these nitwit reporters with a new and most disgraceful form of bribery,” Breslin seethed in a column.
“He uses the reporters to create a razzle dazzle: there are five stories in the newspapers in the morning papers leading into 11 minutes of television at night. The financial people, who lead such dreary lives, believe what they read and see on television. Trump is larger than life.”
The next year, 1991, Breslin saw Trump hawking $1,000 boxing tickets and free helicopter to New York reporters — who eagerly accepted.
“The guy was buying the whole news industry with a return phone call. The news people provided Trump with the currency of his life, publicity, and he believed it was real and the news people believed him right back,” Breslin wrote.
In the past two years, as Trump rose from improbable candidate to the 45th President, Breslin kept quiet, having stopped publishing his thoughts years ago.
But just about a week ago, Breslin was privately at it again.
Former Daily News editor Pete Hamill recalled that Breslin was “addled” by Trump in a recent phone call.
“He knew Trump’s father, because Trump’s father was a Queens guy and Jimmy was the poet laureate of Queens,” Hamill told The News.
Watching Trump in the White House left Breslin “a bit sour with what’s going on in our country.”
“Mainly because (Trump was) the kind of guy that in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and (Breslin’s) in Queens we despised,” Hamill said.
“The bulls–t tough guy. The guy is all mouth and couldn’t fight his way out of an empty lot.”