It's one of Donald Trump's most self-aggrandizing claims: that he is by far the biggest developer in New York City.
“I'm the biggest developer in New York by far, there's nobody even closer," Trump said on Fox News in 1997. And on the pilot episode of The Apprentice: “My name is Donald Trump and I’m the largest real estate developer in New York."
Trump has repeated the claim to Larry King, Howard Stern, and Neil Cavuto, among others. Reporters and rivals, however, have been challenging Trump on the claim for years.
"Trump has never been the largest real estate developer by any measure," Trump Nation biographer Timothy O' Brien said this year in a video for Bloomberg. Another biographer, Wayne Barrett, who wrote The Deals and The Downfall on Trump in early 1990s was more emphatic.
"He manages the largest city-owned golf course, so if grass square footage is the measure, he's right up there," said Barrett. "But the Times established he's not among the city's top 10 real estate power players, which he readily conceded when pressed, hyping instead the international projects of others who paid to use his name. Trump Tower is the face of his empire and all he owns there is his own apartment and the tax subsidized commercial space. The claim is as inflated as his hair."
Others in the real estate business, like Richard S. LeFrak, have called the claim false. The Times noted in 1999 that when Trump makes the statement, it "makes other real estate titans roll their eyes."
"'He's a dear friend of mine, but it wouldn't be accurate for him to say that,'' LeFrak said to the New York Times in 2004.
The NY Observer, owned by Trump's son-in-law, only put Trump as the fourteenth most powerful person in New York City real estate in 2013. Trump didn't even crack the top 10 in power rankings of real estate developers and power brokers from three different publications — Commercial Observer, the New York Post, and the Real Deal.
In 2004, the Times pointed out "the relatively invisible Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management," Elghanayan brothers of Rockrose Development, and Stephen M. Ross of Related Companies had developed more units than Trump. "These are all private residential developers and owners; even they look small compared to some of their commercial counterparts," the Times wrote.
As Times real estate reporter Charles V. Bagli stated matter of factly in the article, "As far as his central claim to fame, he is not the largest developer in New York." Trump reportedly insisted in five follow-up phone calls he was the biggest developer.
Searches of available transcripts and articles reveal Trump started making the claim following the release of his 1997 book, Art of the Comeback. In the book, Trump sought to right his image after his period of financial ruin in the early '90s.
"By some measure— height, perhaps— Donald Trump may have been the 'largest real estate developer in New York,' but many builders could reasonably claim to have accomplished more," wrote Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio in his book Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success. "The company controlled by Jerry Speyer, to cite one example, owned $ 10.5 billion in real estate. Trump was by far, though, the most successful real estate showman in America, and by the end of the first episode of The Apprentice, he was a genuine TV star."
Here's a list of examples of Trump making the claim, found via transcript searches:
“I'm the biggest developer in New York by far, there's nobody even closer.” (Fox News: The Crier Report 1997)
“And the city's hot. And I'm now the biggest developer in New York. So, I think that's sort of cool.” (Fox News: Cavuto 1998)
“The city's the hottest city, and I'm the biggest developer in the hottest city in the world right now.” (CNN: Larry King Live 2000)
“My name is Donald Trump and I’m the largest real estate developer in New York.” (NBC: The Apprentice season 1, 2003)
“Hey, look, I'm the biggest developer in New York, by far. There's nobody close. I'm building buildings all over the place.” (CNN: Larry King Live 2004)
“I am the biggest and best developer in New York; my show, The Apprentice, went to number one and was nominated for four Emmys; my book How to Get Rich became the number one business book of the year (by far); my ninety-second-a-day radio show became the number one biggest launch of a new show in the history of radio (over three hundred stations), and so on.” (Donald J Trump: Think Like a Billionaire 2004)
“Well, first of all and by far, I'm a real estate guy. That's what I love. I'm the largest developer in New York by far.” (CNN: Larry King Live 2005)
“I'm building buildings all over the world right now -- all over the world. I'm probably the largest real estate developer there is. And I'm having a lot of fun doing it.” (CNN: Larry King Live 2007)
“Although I'm the largest developer in Manhattan, I decided to go across the Hudson River to Jersey City because I saw incredible potential there. I am good at predicting trends, and I think Jersey City has a big future ... or I wouldn't be there.” (Donald J. Trump. Trump 101: The Way to Success 2008)
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.