"When a girl quits here, what does she say? Sexual harassment!" groans Gil Dezer with a dismissive shake of his head. "When a guy quits here, what can he say? Ultimately he's looking for money too. So he's going to throw as much at the wall to see what sticks. Wouldn't you?"
The site of all this employee strife is the $600 million Trump Grande Ocean Resort and Residences, a three-tower condo project whose hulking physical presence in Sunny Isles Beach is matched in scope only by the sheer crassness of its developers -- Donald Trump, and the father-son team of Dezer Development, Michael and Gil Dezer. For 29-year-old Gil, who as a junior-high student wrote a starry-eyed book report on the best-selling manifesto Trump: The Art of the Deal, the Trump Grande is an opportunity to apply those lessons alongside the famed real estate mogul himself. "He plays in big amounts," Dezer says admiringly of Trump, sitting inside his own 31st-floor Trump Grande office. "Big properties, big numbers, big people. So you have to plan your chess moves in a big way."
To hear many of his fellow real estate figures in Miami tell it, however, Gil Dezer's rapid muscling into South Florida's luxury-condo market is a case of too much too soon. And sexual-harassment allegations are merely an indicator of the type of behavior that has local Realtors gossiping up a storm. Conversations with Dezer's associates, as well as his own staffers -- past and present -- paint a portrait of a dealmaker all too willing to embody Trump's brashest moments. If chess is the metaphor at hand, Dezer's signature move seems to be the violent upending of the entire board, a characterization Dezer himself doesn't dispute.
"Yeah, I can rip into somebody pretty good," he admits. "And you know what? It works, because whatever they were doing, they don't do it again."
So the accounts of abusive profanity during business meetings? "I say fuck you all the time," Dezer chuckles in response. "Or actually I say, 'Get your fuckin' job done!' I'm from New York," he adds, referring to his suburban New Jersey childhood, "it's part of where I come from. Most people don't get offended by that." How about the stories of screaming fits that reduce employees to tears? "I yell and scream, and fifteen minutes later it's like nothing happened. My close circle gets it. They say, 'Oops, I fucked up!'"
Is he brusque? Sure, he concedes, but he's also the progeny of Michael Dezer, the son of a bus driver who arrived in New York City in 1961, fresh out of the Israeli army, and never looked back as he amassed a downtown real estate fortune. "My father is Jewish and he lays the guilt on pretty thick," Gil explains. The pressure on him to succeed isn't just intense, he notes. It's often unrelenting.
To be fair, much of the grousing in Realtor circles about Gil Dezer undoubtedly flows from the competition for high-end condo buyers his Trump Grande presents. Plus he's a youngster overseeing a project ten times the size of many others being built by more experienced local developers. Certainly that can't endear him. It's a resentment likely sharpened by Dezer's lack of polish, a freewheeling saltiness he's quick to dispense in a business milieu where even sworn enemies tell reporters their rivals are wonderful human beings, just fabulous to work with.
But that flurry of legal papers would seem to indicate that Dezer's style, while generating condo sales, is also causing plenty of in-house friction. At last month's 2004 BEST Awards -- sponsored by the Builders Association of South Florida, the Miami Herald, and El Nuevo Herald -- much of the city's real estate community turned out as Dezer was honored with the title "Best Sales Director of the Year" and Dezer's PR guru Arthur Metz was named "Best Marketing Director of the Year." Make that former PR guru. The next time those two meet, they'll likely be in a courtroom.
Metz declines to comment on his lawsuit's allegations, but they repeat many of the more over-the-top tales surrounding Dezer, from a rain of "verbal insults" aimed at Metz "regarding his sexual orientation and purportedly feminine mannerisms," to "offensive and unwelcome physical contact" with "rolled paper, trash, contracts, and condominium documents as well as advertising specialty items, many of which actually struck him." All this "in front of numerous co-workers and employees as well as third parties doing business with the Trump Grande project." Far from being a case of office high jinks, Metz's suit insists, Dezer's "conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society."
Wow. With a copy of Metz's lawsuit in hand, Kulchur begins reading aloud this descent into barbarism: Gil, what on earth is going on inside your office?
"He's fishing," Dezer says matter-of-factly, chalking up the lawsuit to a disgruntled ex-employee looking for some payback -- and a substantial payday. "Metz had a great mind, [but] he outlived his usefulness." Hence his dismissal. And the alleged abusive language? "The same language I used with him, I've been using with you," he argues. "There was no problem with his being openly gay.... If one of your friends is gay, you talk about it. In an office of twenty people, you're like a family, you talk about it."
And the "advertising specialty items" flying across the room?
"I threw a T-shirt at him!" Dezer cries in exasperation. He jumps up and grabs a nearby sample, emblazoned with You're Fired, the signature catch phrase from Trump's TV show The Apprentice. "It's a T-shirt!" he exclaims again. He balls up the offending item and cocks his arm in Kulchur's direction, catching himself in midtoss. "Even if I wing it at you, it's not going to hurt you, not even to shed a tear!"
Dezer will offer Metz one bone. It was Metz, he says, who persuaded him to doggedly pursue his fiancée, Valeria Liberman. "She's a difficult girl," he jokes. "She's Jewish, Argentinean, and a lawyer! Fuhgeddaboutit!" As if on cue, his cell phone begins chirping. It's Valeria on the line: "Ay, mi amor," Dezer coos into his phone, he'll be down for dinner as soon as he finishes up with a reporter.
Never one to stand in the way of true love -- particularly when one of the lovers is being sued for assault and battery -- Kulchur follows Dezer down 29 floors to the nightlife component of the Trump Grande. Far from being a mere entertainment option, his restaurant's "Second Story Thursdays" party is an integral part of his real estate vision -- at least if he wants to follow the path blazed by Trump.
"The Trump tour de force -- his evolution from rough-edged rich kid with Brooklyn and Queens political-clubhouse connections to an international name-brand commodity -- remains, unmistakably, the most rewarding accomplishment of his ingenious career," writes The New Yorker's Mark Singer, describing a progression that's beginning to sound familiar. "In addition to connoting a certain quality of construction, service, and security -- perhaps only Trump can explicate the meaningful distinctions between 'super luxury' and 'super super luxury' -- his eponym subliminally suggests that a building belongs to him even after it's been sold off as condominiums." Fuhgeddaboutit!
"Super super luxury" is an expression that wouldn't sound out of place in South Beach, especially among the burg's VIP-room set. But if Dezer is going to maximize the value of the rest of his 27 acres of Sunny Isles oceanfront property, he needs to have people associate the phrase with his own holdings. So if you're trying to steal South Beach's thunder -- or at least its marketing appeal -- why not hire its best-known ambassadors of chic?
Accordingly, Second Story Thursdays' promoters include former Nikki Beach maestro Tommy Pooch and Rumi's ever-suave Alan Roth, both currently presiding over the Raleigh Hotel's Sunday-afternoon poolside gatherings. The two have already drawn a decent crowd to the Trump Grande, far north from clubland's usual stomping grounds. "In South Beach you have some clubs on the high-end, but you still get a lot of trashy people," sneers Dezer. "They have three or four drinks at nine dollars each -- who wants to be around those people? You want to be around your own type. If you're young and waiting tables and are a starving artist, or waiting to be discovered as an actor, then it's fun to live in those little apartments down there."
For those claiming allegiance to the international jet set, Dezer believes, the Art Deco district is beyond the pale. "The multimillion-dollar buyers, the ones I know at least, want a little peace and quiet. They want to get a massage inside their building. They want to sit quietly at their own pool. And when they want to go out to a restaurant, they hop in a car and drive twenty minutes."
In other words, South Beach's prospective condo buyers want the serenity of the Trump Grande -- even if they don't know it yet. At the moment, though, Kulchur's untangling of that logic is being interrupted by a DJ spinning deafening beats from turntables erected in the center of the restaurant. So much for peace and quiet. With his future wife Valeria at his side, Dezer leads the way to a patio featuring a decidedly lower decibel level.
Are you ready to have your name bring as much instant recognition as Trump's?
"It's a double-edged sword," Dezer begins to explain, but Valeria breaks in.
"Gil should become president," she says coolly.
President of the United States?
Dezer begins laughing, taking in the surprised look on Kulchur's face, but he makes no move to correct his bride-to-be. Valeria is only too happy to elaborate: "I would love to be the First Lady."
She tightens the sumptuous wrap around her shoulders, perhaps practicing for a state dinner. Temporarily blinded by the colossal diamond on Valeria's left hand, Kulchur struggles for composure, unsure if he's being put on.
Running the White House carries a lot of responsibilities. Aren't you worried that becoming First Lady might be a little grandiose?
"Not at all," Valeria replies without a moment's hesitation. Dezer is still smiling. Whatever difficulties await in his Miami version of the Trump saga, he's clearly found the right woman to play Ivana to his Donald.
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