On “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump is the guy who fires people. In real life, it’s a different story.
For 16 years, Anthony “Tony” P. Senecal was Trump’s personal butler at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s home and club in Palm Beach, Fla. Few people know Trump as well as Senecal. During the first interview Senecal has given since retiring last year, he told Newsmax what it was like to work for him.
Almost every weekend from November to May, Trump hops on his Boeing 727-100 in New York to fly to Palm Beach and stay at Mar-a-Lago. A 55,695-square-foot Mediterranean-style complex, Mar-a-Lago is a Shangri-La that Marjorie Merriweather Post built in 1927. It has 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a ballroom, a spa, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a party pavilion, and a private tunnel leading to Trump’s beach on the Atlantic Ocean.
Almost every celebrity, from Jay Leno and Regis Philbin to Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, have been to Mar-a-Lago. Oprah Winfrey threw a three-day party there for Maya Angelou’s 80th birthday.
Senecal once worked for the doyenne he still respectfully refers to as Mrs. Post. Later, he served as mayor of Martinsburg, W.Va. He came to national attention when The Washington Post ran a front-page feature story about changes in West Virginia with a photo of Senecal, sitting with his cat, Morris, on the shoeshine stand of his tobacco shop.
After Trump bought Mar-a-Lago on South Ocean Boulevard, the head of security hired Senecal. He then became an underbutler. In 1993, Trump decided to turn the home into a club, and he wanted Senecal to be the concierge.
“I was serving him breakfast,” Senecal recalls. “He said, ‘So you’re going to be the concierge. What do you think about that?’”
“Well, I don’t like it,” Senecal said.
“Well, what do you want to be?” Trump asked.
“I thought as long as I was able, I would be your butler,” Senecal replied.
“Mr. Trump stood up and hit me in the arm and said, ‘And the butler’s what you’re going to be,’” says Senecal, 78.
Trump describes Senecal as having an even bigger ego than he does.
“He treats the members as equals,” Trump told me for my book “The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America’s Richest Society.” “In fact, I think he might think he is above them.”
“Geez, the things that I’ve said to him over the years, I’m surprised he didn’t throw me out years ago,” Senecal tells me. “He would sometimes make a statement, and I’d kind of give him that look like, come on, don’t pull this one. And then we’d both just sort of laugh. He once told me, he said, ‘You know, you don’t want anybody bothering you, do you?’ And I said, ‘Mr. Trump, nobody intimidates me.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Nobody?’ I said, ‘Nobody.’ And he just laughed. We just had a great rapport.”
For my book “The Season,” my wife, Pam, and I flew to Palm Beach with Trump and stayed at Mar-a-Lago for a weekend. We had the Spanish suite, which goes for $5,500 a night and overlooks the ocean. It was hard work, but someone had to do it.
Trump’s routine is the same today as then. A German Maybach limousine picked us up on the tarmac at Palm Beach International Airport. Members of the Mar-a-Lago staff were standing outside to greet us as we arrived. Then Trump spent the weekend playing golf, making calls, meeting with architects, and checking on items such as the condition of the gold leaf on the 40 rams that jut from the roof line of Mar-a-Lago.
During the season, Mar-a-Lago features a Sunday brunch that includes caviar with blini, smoked salmon, Alaskan crab claws, cocktail shrimp, freshly opened oysters, cold poached mussels, eggs Benedict, omelets made to order, sausage and bacon, Belgian waffles and French toast, escargots in a wine sauce, seared scallops, rack of lamb, pasta with bolognese sauce, roasted turkey and prime rib carved to order, endless desserts, fresh fruit and cheeses, homemade truffles, and the best Danish pastry imaginable. Served with champagne, the buffet always has one other item: meat loaf, Trump’s favorite food.
“He likes meatloaf and well-done steak, and a well-done cheeseburger,” Senecal says.
As butler, Senecal was the first to see Trump in the morning.
“Mr. Trump sleeps like three or four hours a night,” Senecal says. “He gets up and he reads five or six newspapers every day.”
Senecal often served Trump breakfast or dinner in his room.
“He doesn’t like to see the plate piled up with vegetables and stuff,” Senecal says. “He wants what he ordered. And if he ordered a steak, that’s what he wants. He doesn’t want it all globbed up with veggies. And you better bring some butter, and you better bring some ketchup.”
Trump usually has a running feud with the town of Palm Beach, where anyone with less than $100 million is considered poor. The most recent dust-up revolved around an American flag Trump erected at Mar-a-Lago. Flying from a 70-foot pole, the flag’s overall dimensions were 15 times larger than the town’s restrictive regulations allow. Landmarks Commissioner William Hanley called the flag a “major affront to the town.”
The town responded to the indignity with a daily fine of $1,250. Trump sued for $25 million, claiming his First Amendment rights were being violated.
Trump and the town eventually settled. The town agreed to let him keep the flag if he moved it to a less conspicuous location. Instead of paying the fine that then totaled $120,000, Trump agreed to donate $100,000 to veterans’ charities.
Senecal says he “hears” that the ground under the flag was raised, increasing the overall height of the flag. He attributes the episode to Trump’s patriotism.
“You know Donald Trump was born on Flag Day, and I swear it’s in his blood,” Senecal says. “He really is red, white, and blue.”
As an employer, Trump is both demanding and loyal, Senecal says.
Senecal lists three things that none of Trump’s more than 20,000 employees should do: “You don’t steal from him; you don’t lie to him; and you don’t embarrass him.”
Usually, if Trump decides to fire someone, he will go back to New York. first and think about it.
“Then he’ll call up whoever’s in charge here and say, you know, ‘Get rid of . . . ’ Then there are times when he’s just said, ‘Get out of here. You’re fired.’ That’s when he’s really, really been upset over something. Like cutting the bougainvillea down or something like that. Otherwise, I think you really have to be insubordinate to get on his bad side.”
As for Trump’s hair, “I don’t know a thing about his hair,” Senecal says.
Some years ago, when Senecal’s home air-conditioning system gave out, Trump had it replaced. When Senecal had to undergo heart surgery, Trump called him the day before.
“So when do you go under the knife?” Trump asked.
“Tomorrow,” Senecal said.
“Well, if you don’t make it, don’t worry about it. You’ve had a good life,” Trump said.
And then Trump said, “Listen, I don’t want you going back to your place. You come and recuperate at Mar-a-Lago.”
Senecal continues to drop in at Mar-a-Lago, sometimes to see Trump’s wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, who is 3. The International Red Cross Ball will take place at Mar-a-Lago this month.
“When you think of the history of it, that’s really a tremendous event,” Senecal says. “The pomp and the circumstance of it is really what makes it so attractive to people. The people are dressed to the nines, the trumpeters, all the ambassadors in their sashes and medals and everything. It’s just beautiful.”
For the first time, Senecal will not be presiding. Trump has not replaced him, and with good reason.
Senecal is irreplaceable.
Pamela Kessler contributed to this article.Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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