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At NYC Trump Tower, Amusement and Debate Unfold in Monument to Luxury


FILE - The multipurpose, 68-story Trump Tower, located on New York's Fifth Avenue, now serves as campaign headquarters for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

FILE - The multipurpose, 68-story Trump Tower, located on New York's Fifth Avenue, now serves as campaign headquarters for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

While New York City has elected some Republican mayors and members of Congress, it has not supported a GOP candidate for president since 1924, when the United States elected incumbent Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge in a landslide victory.

With its overwhelming majority of Democratic voters, the city can feel politically intimidating for visitors from the more conservative American heartland, whose primary voters have placed Republican nominee Donald Trump within striking distance of the presidency.

But in midtown Manhattan, there is one place where supporters of the billionaire businessman can feel at home: Trump Tower, his world headquarters. The 68-story mixed-use building nestles along New York's Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets, just south of Central Park and the famous Plaza Hotel.

Trump brand popular with visitors

Outside, the all-caps, shimmering gold Trump Tower lettering makes the building a popular selfie backdrop for tourists and fans alike.

Inside, its huge, five-story atrium is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Its floor-to-ceiling tan and terra cotta marble is buffed to a high-gloss finish, allowing visitors to witness their own arrival.

Trump Tower escalator, from the second floor. (R. Taylor/VOA)

Trump Tower escalator, from the second floor. (R. Taylor/VOA)

Trump has been in the news for decades, at first for his high-profile real estate ventures and, since 2004, for his reality television show, "The Apprentice." Trump Tower has been the show's setting, including the famous boardroom where Trump terminated one contestant each week with his signature line, "You're fired!"

At the Trump Grill, there are mirrors everywhere. “It’s to make it look bigger than it really is,” one employee remarks.

The grill and Trump Bar feature a number of Trump-brand spirits, including a 26-year-old Trump scotch priced at $20 a shot and “bottled exclusively to commemorate the launch of Trump International Golf Links in Scotland."

A sample of name-brand items on the Trump Tower Grill menu. (R. Taylor/VOA)

A sample of name-brand items on the Trump Tower Grill menu. (R. Taylor/VOA)

Then, there’s the “You’re Fired” – an oversized Bloody Mary cocktail ($15) – and an $18 taco bowl salad with which he famously posed in May, smiling with thumb up, while exclaiming on Twitter, “I love Hispanics!”

“That’s a good dish,” reassures one patron, an impeccably dressed local and regular at the bar.

Pilgrimage for Trump fans

The restaurant's lunch crowd on a recent day is mixed: On one end of the room, a young man sports slicked hair, a red power tie and an American flag pin; on the other, a visiting family, casually outfitted in shorts and sneakers, props a “Make America Great Again” sign on the table.

At the bar, a portrait of Donald's father, the late Frederick Christ Trump (1905-1999), smiles earnestly at its patrons.

Asked by a reporter whether Trump ever visits, a waitress points at a corner table overlooking the entire room. It's the perfect spot for a man who “loves attention,” she says, noting the once-regular diner typically eats around noon.

The space invites conversation, but as one employee points out, the staff are not allowed to openly discuss politics.

However, she later adds, “Clinton’s going to win."

Outside the building, Mary Fowler of Angleton, Texas, looks up to admire the tower. She'd hoped to buy a Trump T-shirt, but they were sold out, so she has settled on a hat.

“I am absolutely for Trump,” says Fowler, who describes a possible Clinton presidency as “disastrous.”

Mary Fowler, from Angleton, Texas, visits Trump Tower with her granddaughter Kamryn Glaze (center) and her friend Courtney Stephens (left). (R. Taylor/VOA)

Mary Fowler, from Angleton, Texas, visits Trump Tower with her granddaughter Kamryn Glaze (center) and her friend Courtney Stephens (left). (R. Taylor/VOA)

“Being from Texas, I’m very strong against illegal immigration, and [Clinton’s] going to do exactly what Obama’s done,” said Fowler. “Plus, I can’t trust anything she says.”

Liberal enclave

Like Fowler, Suzanne Russell is voting Republican. She's based in New York and says living in the heavily Democratic city has been hard.

“Every time you speak out, these crazy people, they just laugh like it’s a big joke, and we have a lot of liberal friends that are women who are just voting for her because she’s a woman,” Russell says, incredulously. Clinton’s "saying [Trump] can’t be trusted. She can’t be trusted!”

Russell points to Clinton’s experience as secretary of state as a failure, specifically citing the 2012 deaths of a U.S. ambassador and several other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

But Paul Rosen, an auburn-wigged demonstrator who overhears the conversation, describes much of the anti-Clinton rhetoric as a “witch hunt.”

“It’s not a good choice either way,” he says of the major-party nominees. “Hillary is corrupt, she’s made awful mistakes. Trump has no idea how government works.”

Paul Rosen regularly demonstrates outside Trump Tower. He considers Clinton a war criminal for voting to invade Iraq, but still sees her as the better option against Trump. (R. Taylor/VOA)

Paul Rosen regularly demonstrates outside Trump Tower. He considers Clinton a war criminal for voting to invade Iraq, but still sees her as the better option against Trump. (R. Taylor/VOA)

When it comes time to vote, the former Bernie Sanders supporter, who regularly stands outside the front entrance holding a photo of Trump’s head superimposed on a nuclear cloud, is casting his ballot for Clinton.

“I think the most important thing between these two is the selection of Supreme Court justices,” Rosen says. “Despite everything about Hillary, she’s going left, and Donald’s going right.”

As Rosen makes his case, a self-described economist and Iraq war veteran angrily walks up to warn him against Clinton and what he described as a race war.

“You take your chances,” the man cautions Rosen.

But before Rosen can engage him in conversation, the man says, “You wouldn’t understand” – and walks off.

Still, Rosen remains, holding his sign – a lone demonstrator in a sea of tourists – waiting for the next conversation to unfold.

Tina Trinh contributed to this report.

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