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By Steve Kelman

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Me and Donald Trump

Trump note to Kelman

In June 2014, before Donald Trump became Donald Trump the Republican presidential frontrunner, I published a blog post titled "2 1/2 cheers for GSA, Donald Trump and the Old Post Office." The post was occasioned by news that the General Services Administration had awarded Trump a contract to refurbish and redevelop the historic Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

What struck me about this was that Trump had been awarded the contract despite his feverish political opposition to the Obama administration.

"In many, many countries around the world it would be unthinkable for a prominent opponent of the government to win a contract such as this -- or any government contract, for that matter," I wrote. "And this feature of our government is not only great from a perspective of public ethics, but also great in terms of long-term economic growth and prosperity for our country."

In that post, I also praised GSA for its innovative approach to bringing in a private-sector partner to improve the usefulness of the post office building, despite a tradition of managing government buildings internally.

I gave 2 1/2 cheers to GSA instead of three because I noted that Trump had promised to have the project done in time for the 2017 inaugural, and GSA would have been less likely to meet such a deadline because the government struggles to be as tough on suppliers' performance as Trump can be.

More than six months later, on Dec. 15 (about a month before I was diagnosed with my illness), I received an email with the header "From the office of Donald J. Trump." It came from his executive assistant with the text: "As per Mr. Trump's request, please see the attached note. Thank you!" So obviously, months after the original blog post, someone in the Trump organization had come across it and forwarded it to him.

The attachment was a scanned copy of my FCW blog post with underlining and text written with a felt-tip pen. He highlighted the paragraphs about his having received the contract even though he had been associated with the "birther" movement claiming Obama had not been born in the U.S. and had considered running against him in 2012. He then underlined the sentence about how in many other countries it is unheard-of for an outspoken opponent of those in power to receive a high-profile government contract.

He then circled the comment at the end of the blog about the commitment to be ready with the hotel in time for the 2017 inauguration. At the bottom of the page, in bold capital letters, he wrote, "WE WILL MAKE THIS DATE (EASY)." He finished off his comment with a thank you "for the nice words" and a signature.

As I now reexamine at this message in light of what has happened since, I have three reactions. The first is to wonder whether Trump had any thought when he made this promise that the inaugural his building would be ready for might conceivably be his own! The second is that you can easily detect Trump's brash style: It will be "EASY" to meet the deadline. The large capital letters of his handwriting also signal brashness and self-confidence.

But there is a third thing that is more important to me. I think it was thoughtful of him to take the time to write. He, of course, had no idea who I am, and he could have no expectation the comments would receive any circulation beyond me as the recipient, which, until now, they hadn't.

I speak as someone who has zero sympathy for Trump's presidential campaign. I am certain many blog readers who share my view of Trump will not be happy I am posting these words that appear to put him in a positive light. But it is just because of my views on Trump that I am writing this. I am a strong believer that we need far more civility in our public life than we currently have, including recognizing and praising political opponents when appropriate.

Trump's campaign, to put it gently, has hardly been a force for more civility in politics. Though I am by no means a supporter, I want to call out his thoughtfulness to represent a hope I continue to hold, despite this year's campaign, for a politics and society characterized by mutual respect and appreciation for one another.

If by any miracle Trump himself should read this blog post, I hope he might recognize that his private comments to me reflected the better angel of his nature far more than what has come more recently.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 02, 2016 at 8:17 AM

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Reader comments

Tue, Mar 8, 2016 Steve L.

I too am disappointed by Donald's brash and spontaneous remarks. But I believe he is being shrewd with his time and his money. Once it's clear he's got the nomination locked, I think he'll get more serious about policies and spend time with his advisers. In the meantime I think he's going to wing it. Only invest what you need to. In the end, I have faith in our countries checks and balances if he were to become president. I also think he'll listen to advisers (he certainly did on The Apprentice). I just hope we don't end up with more gridlock with different names.

Fri, Mar 4, 2016 dwight singapore

steve, as always your perspective, insights, and courage are an inspiration. for you to find and point out the bigger implications of the GSA award, and then to get a reaction to you and what you've done with it, and how, gives many an opportunity give all that is going on a deeper consideration and come away with a more refined perspective. thank you....

Thu, Mar 3, 2016

Trump does not care what you think. As for civility, look at what civility has done with the White House--paralyzed it and this has made many national security and govt reform initiatives a big zero. Civility is why strengthening government and the acquisition process is barely apparent. You want civility? You'd find more in N. Korea or the PRC. No, professor, I am a Democrat and tenured faculty at a top university not far from you, but I cannot hold my nose long enough to vote for the party's candidate.

Thu, Mar 3, 2016 Paul Brubaker

This is a great and thanks for blogging this Steve. I find it very interesting for the same reasons you do. This confirms my suspicions that Donald Trump is far more tuned into his environment and feedback than people think - he must have a well staffed and disciplined process for identifying and consuming feedback. To be clear, I don't support xenophobic comments or the wall but I do think if you listen carefully to what he is saying he betrays a vein of pragmatism and sense of reality that he isn't overtly showing to the red meat crowd or the public - at least not yet. To me he is laser focused on creating an uphill odd-defying outcome and thus far he's making progress that few in the establishment want to see - and he's doing it with the surgical precision, organization and messaging of somebody who is very good at tactical execution against a strategic goal. It is certainly fair to object to his message and methods but it is equally fair to point out that he has been effective in consistently defying odds and getting closer to his objective. As a student of political science I find this blog immensely interesting and I share your hope that regardless of the outcome a calmer voice will emerge.

Thu, Mar 3, 2016

Thanks Steve. There is a lot of information in this post that confirms what I've suspected about Trump. People may not like him but he has exceptional awareness of his operating environment. You can't say that about most President's who get stuck in a bubble. Interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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