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Jorge Pérez is known as the "Condo King of Miami," and sometimes he’s called the "Donald Trump of the Tropics." He’s been a business partner and friend of Trump’s for decades. But the two don’t see eye-to-eye on politics and their relationship has been strained recently.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Pérez about his work supporting the arts, his development projects and his thoughts on the Trump administration so far.
On his current relationship with President Trump
"I think that’s the question I get asked all the time now. President Trump and I have been friends for over 20 years. We used to talk a couple of times a month. We've been business partners, we've been social friends, and had a very good relationship for a very long time. When he ran for president, he asked me to help, and I said, ‘I'm supporting Hillary Clinton, and I’m a liberal Democrat,’ and I wasn't able to help him. Then I reached out to him and congratulated him when he won the elections, telling him I was a friend and I hoped he unified the country, and I wished him well and a great presidency. He called me a couple of times, we talked. First, about the Department of Housing and Urban Development, then about Latin America, a little bit about Cuba. And it was very friendly. He asked me for advice, asked me if I wanted to serve in the government. But since I made the statements about my opposition to the famous wall, I haven't had any more communications with the president."
On Trump asking him to help with building the U.S.-Mexico border wall
"He sent me an email saying, ‘Please call me. Here's the wall, are you interested?’"
On why he turned down Trump’s offers to serve in the administration
"Well, it's a difficult decision, because on one side, you want to help the country. And on the other side, you know that — particularly in housing and urban development, where I spent 40 years, both as an urban planner and as a developer — I think if there's anything I know a little bit about, it's housing and urban development. And I'm a big proponent of subsidies in order to be able to provide affordable, quality housing to those that can't afford it. And I thought that the Republican administration were going totally towards a different path, one that is probably going to cut the budget of the Department of Housing and Development and not pay so much attention to housing. So I didn't think of myself as spending a few years butting my head against total policies.
"At the same time, I felt a little bit bad that maybe I could have made a difference in keeping housing programs that were very necessary. So, when he called again and said, ‘Would you be interested in undersecretary,’ because the chosen secretary [Dr. Ben Carson] does not have great housing experience. He's a surgeon. I met with Mr. Carson and I said, ‘No, I'm not interested in being the undersecretary,’ which would really be the, sort of the expert in housing. But I gave him some recommendations that hopefully they called to try to fill housing positions with housing experts.”
"I don't know him as a political animal, so I was very surprised when he announced, because I never knew him to be so interested in politics."Jorge Pérez, on his relationship with President Trump
On whether he would lead the National Endowment for the Arts, if asked
"No. And the reason for no is I don't consider myself an arts expert. I'm a collector... That's an interesting question. I shouldn't say, 'No.' But I would have the same problem. President Trump — I keep on trying to call him Donald — but President Trump has made it very clear that he wants to eliminate both the [National Endowment for the Arts] and [National Endowment for the Humanities], which is something that I would be very much opposed to. I was a member of the [National Endowment for the Arts] at a time where we were suffering huge cuts and huge attacks. And it was a difficult period. We managed to save it and actually increase it a little bit. But it's a drop in the bucket. The elimination of these programs is purely symbolic, as it's such a minute part of the national budget that it would make absolutely no difference in trying to balance any budget."
On what he knows about Trump that he wishes the rest of America knew
"I know a different Donald Trump. Remember, I did not discuss immigration or national health care or the environment. We discussed business. We were friends, and we discussed social things and business matters. Sports, real estate and family matters. Our wives knew each other, we went to concerts together, went to dinner together. And as a social person, he's a very charming guy. He was a great partner. We never had an argument in the projects that we did. He, like I, always demanded luxury in the buildings that we did together, but paid great attention to detail. He was very proud of what he did. I remember him showing me Mar-a-Lago's new ballroom and everything that he'd done. I always found him to be, with me, caring and charming and a person to have a very good time, a very good evening with. I don't know him as a political animal, so I was very surprised when he announced, because I never knew him to be so interested in politics."
On whether he thinks there will be a downturn in the housing market
"No, I don't. I think we've seen an equilibrium in the market. I think the market has cooled down, which it needed to. And the biggest difference between now and 2009, 2010, 2008, is leverage. Today, most of the condominiums that we're building in Miami have very little financing. Buyers have put in very substantial down payments, at least 50 percent of the purchase price. So that is going to make it very difficult to see a downturn, a severe downturn. I think that we're going to see more of a cooling down over the next couple of years and then key areas, key cities like Miami, will then come back with a bang. You have to remember that the world sees Miami as an exciting city, and also as a very safe city. As opposed to Latin American cities, there are not the risks of monetary fluctuations, physical security..."
On the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the art scene in the city
"We had big expectations from the museum. And I think we've surpassed all our expectations. Every month, every year, every month keeps on getting better and better, not only in the numbers that we're seeing coming, visiting the museum — not only locally but internationally. The reputation of the museum has grown beautifully. So we're very, very pleased with the progress of the museum. We tried to make sure that we represent the population of Miami, and by that I'm saying we want to make sure that it's art that talks to all the different segments of the community. And I think it has contributed to the growth of that art scene in Miami. More and more artists are living here. We're trying to get more residencies to come to Miami. And if you look at the artists, sometimes I'm surprised. It's like, this is what we would like to be exhibited, or this is the museum that we would like to have our collection in.
“So, Miami is a very important part of Latin America's life, and being part of it by being shown in the museum or being part of the museum's collection becomes a sign of prestige. We've been able to market that well in Latin America, and because of that, a lot of collectors, artists, galleries and so forth continue to come to Miami. Not only is it artistically and humanly edifying, but it's an economic engine. The arts have produced a lot. You look at Art Basel, it's amazing, the satellite fairs and the number of galleries that have opened here in Miami. The number of restaurants around areas like Wynwood because of the galleries and the population coming to visit those galleries. So, it's a big economic engine."
This segment aired on March 9, 2017.