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When Donald Trump fires the last wannabe employee tomorrow night and brings the two-hour season finale of The Apprentice to a close, he'll award the other man standing -- either Bill Rancic or Kwame Jackson - with what he calls a dream job.

But the new hire may find he's walked into a nightmare, if his first assignment as president of a Trump division is dealing with Madeleine Polayes and her ragtag band of objectors.

Polayes is the president of the Coalition for a Livable West Side, a local community organization that has fought Trump for more than a decade, nettling his quest to build Trump Place, a luxury residential development of 16 high-rise buildings with more than 5,700 apartments on the west side of Manhattan, where condominiums sell in the millions and two-bedroom units rent for more than $7,000 (U.S.) per month.

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While the petite and grandmotherly Polayes may not be a fan of any reality television, she and her coalition supporters, who include the cartoonist Jules Feiffer and the brother of Rosie O'Donnell, understand the value of good timing in the matter of publicity. So yesterday afternoon, two days before The Apprentice finale and as Trump's latest book, How to Get Rich, is climbing the bestseller lists, Polayes and local politicians braved cold weather and a driving rain for a press conference on West End Avenue, where they announced a lawsuit to prevent Trump from ruining their neighbourhood with massive changes to the local traffic patterns.

"I just think he really has disintegrated the West Side," Polayes said.

In January, Trump won approval from the local Department of Transportation to close an off-ramp from the West Side Highway at 72nd Street. The ramp is only a few metres from a Trump building currently under construction, enabling drivers to peer in the apartment windows and making the units prized for exhibitionists but less valuable for the mainstream market.

Other traffic changes include converting a local road into a seven-lane speedway, which the Coalition says will endanger the senior citizens who make up a large percentage of the local population, and the alteration of a bus route that now favours Trump Place residents over seniors.

"Pick on someone your own size," growled Scott Stringer, a local assemblyman, referring to Trump's penchant for bare-knuckle tactics. Daniel O'Donnell, another assemblyman and the brother of Rosie O'Donnell, nodded in approval.

As many admirers as Trump seems to have in the rest of the country, where 500,000 copies of his How to Get Rich are in distribution and The Apprentice is the biggest new show of the television season, in his hometown of New York he is often a source of irritation for those who try to mitigate his grandiose intentions.

In 1999 Walter Cronkite led a band of celebrities that included philanthropist Alberto W. Vilar and the former head of Citibank against the 72-storey Trump tower then in development near the United Nations headquarters. The cause, which pulled in Kofi Annan and other international statesmen, was ultimately unsuccessful in preventing Trump's vertical aspirations from overshadowing the UN building.

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During the course of constructing Trump Place, which Trump is building and selling on behalf of a Chinese developer, he upset many residents of The Chatsworth, a Beaux-Arts rental building on West 72nd Street where Susan Sarandon once lived and Conan O'Brien occupies the penthouse, by siting one of his towers a mere eight centimetres away from an exterior wall. Though the construction was too close for city regulations, Trump was able to override objections because management of The Chatsworth was distracted with a receivership dispute.

"I've always thought his name was so apropos, because he just trumps everything," said a scornful Randy Williams, a West Side resident who stopped while out for a walk to listen to yesterday's press conference, where references to The Apprentice littered the speeches. "I object to what he does. Closing that ramp is so beyond the pale, it's such a blatant favour to him," said Williams, who added that he's never watched The Apprentice.

But a few protesters admitted that, even though the sight of Trump's mug drives them to distraction, they enjoy the show. "He's the caricature of a successful developer," scoffed Irving Kleiman, who used to work as a developer in New York for Olympia & York. "But I enjoyed the show. Not enough to tape it, but if it was on again, I'd watch it."

Helen Zuckerman was out walking Archie, her ailing 16-year-old Yorkie, when she happened upon the press conference. She recalled fighting Trump back in 1992, when talk of the local development was just beginning. Still, she loves The Apprentice. "I'm not a Trump fan, and I don't watch Survivor or the other reality shows. But I'm hooked on it."

Some aren't so willing to forgive an adversary. Asked if he watches The Apprentice, Scott Stringer snapped, "Oh, get a life. What a stupid show."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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