Former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman recalls Donald Trump's eye-opening 1988 visit
TAMPA — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s planned stump stop in Tampa on Saturday put one former mayor in mind of another time he hit the city — and a moment she has not forgotten.
In 1988, the celebrity businessman flew in on his private jet at the behest of Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner to speak for free at a major fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club, a favorite Steinbrenner cause. At the annual Steak ‘N’ Burger benefit, kids were served steak while adults dined on hamburgers — or ground-sirloin patties, anyway.
Even pre-The Apprentice, Trump was a draw. The sell-out crowd of 1,200 paid $100 a ticket to hear the already-famous mogul lament the lack of U.S. heroes, criticize politicians and express concern for the American way.
He also, then-Mayor Sandy Freedman said this week, referred in colorful terms and more than once to the “G--d--- Japs” and a trade war, as in, the Japanese people.
Freedman said she found it most inappropriate, particularly given the audience.
“I was embarrassed for those kids,” she said this week.
Full disclosure: Freedman is actively working on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The first woman mayor of Tampa, Freedman has also been a source of some of the city’s more colorful stories, many of them archived at the University of South Florida.
She has recounted, for instance, the time that the powerful Tampa fathers who dress as pirates for Gasparilla engaged in an inebriated food fight at the Tampa Yacht Club, sending her under a table to avoid flying silverware.
“I was there, and I would swear it on a Bible,” Freedman said this week of the Trump speech way back when. “Ten Bibles.”
A business story in this newspaper — then known as the St. Petersburg Times — said Trump gave a rambling, 40-minute speech that touched on the national deficit and the Iran-Iraq War. The story did not mention use of the term “Japs.” Contacted this week, the former head of the local Boys & Girls Club organization did not specifically recall it.
The term did, however, appear in a Trump quote elsewhere a few months later. In a piece headlined "Flashy Symbol of An Acquisitive Age: DONALD TRUMP", Time magazine tried to pin him down about his wealth and worth.
From the magazine: "When the question is asked directly of Trump, there is a long pause. Then he grins and says, 'Who the f knows? I mean, really, who knows how much the Japs will pay for Manhattan property these days?' ”
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.