Removing the Name ‘Trump’ Won’t Save a Golf Course in the South Bronx

In some matter of months, the name “Trump Links,” set in paving stones in letters big enough to be seen from the Whitestone Bridge and Mar-a-Lago, will be ripped up at a public golf course in the Bronx where the cost of playing 18 holes on a Saturday morning is $185.

You might reasonably wonder: What took so long? Twenty years from now, historians might find themselves asking “Who abandoned Donald Trump first, Mitch McConnell or Bill de Blasio?” The wise student on the receiving end of this question will realize that the answer is not obvious. It took the trampling of the Capitol at the president’s encouragement — during the last year of Mr. de Blasio’s tenure as a progressive mayor of New York — for the city to decide it would break the contractual relationships it has maintained with the Trump Organization for decades.

A timeline of the current ruptures would show the news coming after the president had already been deserted by his coalition of the acquiescent: Rupert Murdoch, Twitter, Geraldo Rivera, a growing line of Republicans who began to convey that they might support his impeachment.

On Wednesday, after teasing at the notion a few days earlier, Mr. de Blasio declared that the city would end agreements with the Trump empire — arrangements that have given the company license to operate two skating rinks and a carousel in Central Park and, most controversially, the municipal golf course in the Bronx. This site, branded as Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, is steeped in a racist history that predated the family’s involvement. The real affront was in design rather than association — the promises and plans made by city officials dating back more than 40 years, which prioritized the tastes of white homeowners over the urban poor.

The Ferry Point course had been open for only a few months when Mr. Trump announced his candidacy with the shocking (at the time) racial disparagements of Mexicans. Immediately there were calls for the country’s most diverse and liberal city to terminate its partnership with Trump Golf Links. Over the next four years, the de Blasio administration would examine the possibility and determine that it could not succeed in weathering the litigation that would inevitably follow.

Predictably, just after the mayor voiced his latest decision, the Trump Organization threatened a suit on the grounds that the city was acting out its “political discrimination” with no “legal right” to end the contracts.

There is no valor in neutering two of the four contracts; the agreements for the skating rinks were already set to expire in April. Still, Eric Trump used the mayor’s announcement as an opportunity to rail against “cancel culture,” overlooking the fact that the Trumps had begun canceling themselves when they removed signage with their name from the rinks in 2019. ostensibly realizing that it had become kryptonite to the company’s business interest in the park.

Beyond that, the case for disentangling was never quite as unstable as the city maintained. There was precedent for precisely the kind of divorce the mayor now suddenly regards as feasible. In 2007, the Parks Department revoked the license of an outfit called East Coast Golf, which had been running concessions at a city course off the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. The termination came 19 years before its contract was up and was prompted by allegations that the company’s president had ties to the Colombo crime family.

The issue with attaching the Trump name to a golf course in the Bronx, where more than a quarter of the population lives in poverty and 44 percent of residents are Black, was problematic from the outset, given the Trumps’ history of racial bias in the 1970s, when the company often turned away prospective tenants who were Black.

The Bloomberg administration chose Trump as the vendor amid limited options. Constructing the course had cost the city more that $127 million, and now a capable operator was needed to maintain it when golf’s popularity was already in decline. The overlords of tech were deal-making at Burning Man, not on the back nine.

The Trump Organization came forward with the most favorable offer when some major operators did not even bid on the city’s proposal — and that offer still meant that the city would not be able to make money from the deal until 2019, four years after the course opened. The real goal was to bring major championship tournaments and all that attendant tourism and revenue to New York, an expectation the city identified in its contract. But Mr. Trump’s volatility got in the way — as it was bound to, eventually.

But simply removing the name “Trump” from the golf course won’t exorcise the civic spirit and political will that deferred to the demands of a largely white community so many years ago. The course that exists today sits on what was once a landfill. In the late 1970s, homeowners told local officials that what they wanted most of all in its place was somewhere to play golf. It would drive up their property values and at the same time prevent the development of a park that would have attracted the Black and brown residents of the public housing complexes nearby.

Over many years and mayoral administrations, after financial setbacks and starts and stops, the city rationalized its decision to build a golf course, arguing that the creation of something broader in purpose would require more extensive and costlier forms of environmental remediation. (Housing, given the landscape’s toxic history, was not an option.)

If Trumpism in much of America is marked by righteous rage and nationalist grievance, among New York’s liberal ruling class it lives in gilt and self-deception, in the placement of a luxury commodity where there ought to be a utilitarian asset, in the capitulation to real-estate interests often with the distorted view that the benefits of serving the dominant will redound to the powerless — they just didn’t know it yet.

Only a mindless lefty would think that leaving acres of land on the eastern shore of the Bronx to accommodate picnic tables and hiking trails would deliver greater value than a place to putt, chip and drive. What is the economic multiplier effect of a serene spot on the grass where you might eat a sandwich you made at home? Golf would bring jobs and real money for schools, for housing — wasn’t it obvious?

In the first year the city was able to collect licensing fees from Trump Links at Ferry Point, it brought in roughly $560,000. The deal is structured to give the city 7 percent of gross receipts annually, and even though Trump Links grossed more during that year than any of the city’s other municipal courses (because of the disproportionate cost of its greens fees) at this rate New York won’t make back its initial investment for at least 226 years.

But it was going to be great. Big. Big league. A kind of golf course like you have never seen. Making piles of cash so high, you couldn’t believe it. The best. The very, very best.

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