I was sitting across from Donald Trump in his office, suggesting an idea I thought he might like.
It was April, 2015, two months before he made his fateful run for president, and a time when few thought he had a glimmer of hope of winning.
I was with a New York political leader who, like me, was very concerned about the sorry state of public housing in New York City. The squalid conditions in those buildings are Dickensian, with millions of repair requests going unheeded. Even the progressive mayor of New York had done nothing to ameliorate this problem in his first 16 months in office.
We thought that if we could find a developer to adopt a public housing building and fix it, perhaps this would spur other wealthy developers to follow suit and improve living conditions. We decided to appeal to Trump first because maybe he would take on this challenge and we knew if he did, it would get lots of press attention.
Like his rescue of the Wollman Rink ice skating project in the 1980s, this would allow Trump to show that the private sector, and builders like him, can do things more effectively than government can.
“Mr. Trump, if you adopt one of these decrepit public housing buildings and fix it up, you will show up the liberal mayor of New York and you will be a hero to tens of thousands of poor people in New York,” I said as Trump listened politely and intently.
“And if you ever run for national office, it will show your concern for the poor and will win you lots of votes among those who are impoverished and looking for hope.”
Trump said he liked the idea and would get back to us, but soon had too much on his plate to get involved with this seemingly parochial issue.
I’ve thought a lot about that meeting in the past few weeks. I would love the opportunity to once again pitch a version of this to the President-elect.
Mr. President-elect: Please fix up the crumbling public housing that exists in New York and in so many other blighted urban centers of America. Take your unique talents as a builder and make America great again for all the poor children and single mothers and seniors who live lives of quiet desperation and hopelessness in these modern ghettos.
Wouldn’t an initiative like this in the first 100 days send the message that you will be a leader for all the people and that the federal government can finally comfort the afflicted among us?
It’s often said that when you’re given lemons, try to make lemonade. That resonates with me, especially in the wake of this divisive election. We now have a President-elect who managed to insult and frighten many of the powerless in this country. But now is the time for him to heal those wounds with some bold plans.
In addition to fixing up public housing, the billionaire developer could burnish his place in history as the president who thought big and spearheaded the largest infrastructure rebuild campaign in history.
Rather than build walls and hunt down innocent undocumented immigrants, Trump can use his new job and the Republican majority in Congress to embark on a $1-trillion plan to improve our transportation system. This will create new jobs and spur growth as well as unlock new housing stock in rural areas that now would be within easy commuting distance of the nearby urban centers where there are jobs.
Bullet trains all over the country — like we see in places like China and Japan — will truly energize our economy and finally pull us into the 21st century. From New York to Washington D.C. in an hour, from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than two hours by train — these are the exciting improvements which will truly make America great again. A new rail tunnel linking New York to New Jersey. Light rail in urban centers that will link business districts to affordable areas. A subway tunnel from the Battery to Staten Island.
Like FDR’s WPA and all the highways and bridges that were built just under a century ago, we are on the brink of a transformative wave of improvements that only government can provide.
Mr. President, our country awaits your destiny to build us back to supremacy.
Tom Allon is president of City & State NY.