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Meet Donald Trump’s ultimate fixer: his son-in-law

Jared Kushner, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, is now a powerful figure in US politics.

In October 2016, the New York Observer asked a panel of real-estate moguls, including the paper’s proprietor, Jared Kushner, a simple question: Hillary or Donald? Kushner, who had married Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, responded with just two words – “Family first.” Now he has been named as a senior adviser to Trump, the incoming president of the United States.

As the candidate’s son-in-law, Kushner was a rare constant presence in the Trump campaign. On election night, after it became clear that Hillary Clinton would not win the White House, it was Kushner who took over his father-in-law’s mobile phone to screen the calls coming in for the new president-elect.

Jared Kushner was born in 1981 in New Jersey, the son of the real-estate developer and Democratic Party donor Charles Kushner. He went on to get a degree in sociology from Harvard in 2003. The investigative journalist Daniel Golden, in his 2006 book The Price of Admission, links a $2.5m donation that Charles Kushner made to Harvard University in 1998 with the acceptance of his son there the following year. Golden quotes a former official from Kushner’s school saying that his grades weren’t good enough for the Ivy League institution. (A spokeswoman for Kushner has denied this allegation.)

While at Harvard, Kushner made money buying and selling buildings, supported by his family’s fortune. His net worth is estimated at $200m. When he was 25, he bought the New York Observer for $10m, a move that helped him forge friendships with the likes of Rupert Murdoch. The paper’s print edition ceased production in November 2016.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was convicted on 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. He served part of his two-year sentence in a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, where his wife and son visited him every week.

Jared Kushner’s favourite book is Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, in which the hero takes revenge on the enemies who wrongfully imprisoned him. For Kushner, it was the New Jersey governor Chris Christie whom he had in his sights. As a state attorney, Christie had prosecuted Kushner’s father. In December 2016, Christie was ousted as head of Trump’s transition team, reportedly at Kushner’s instigation.

Kushner practises Orthodox Judaism, and Ivanka Trump converted before their wedding. His grandparents escaped the Nazis, and his grandmother Rae was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Kushner and his wife, who have three children, keep the Sabbath, although Kushner broke this during the campaign, attending a crisis meeting at Trump Tower on a Saturday when an audio tape emerged of Trump boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy”.

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, has been accused of allowing the website to run anti-Semitic articles. After allegations of anti-Semitism were made against Trump, Kushner wrote that his father-in-law was “an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife”.

This support for Trump has come at a personal cost to Kushner. Friends from his liberal New York set have turned against him. In an interview with Forbes in December, he called this process an “exfoliation”. Kushner has said that going to rallies and meeting “ordinary Americans” helped him see Donald Trump’s appeal. At one rally, Trump spoke of his son-in-law’s new-found enthusiasm: “I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate.”

“Soft-spoken” is how Kushner is usually described, although a New York magazine profile claims that “his voice is just literally soft”, and sources say that his whispering conceals an aggressive manner. He is pale, slight and tall – a 2015 Vogue article said that both Kushner and his wife have “a kind of otherworldly, almost alien attractiveness, as if they’ve come from the future”.

In one sense, Kushner is the future. He is now a powerful figure in US politics, having met Boris Johnson, opened lines of communication with Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel and been instrumental in several Wall Street appointments to Trump’s cabinet.

Kushner and Ivanka are moving with their children to a $5.6m mansion in Washington, DC, so that he can work at the White House. It has been suggested that his new role contravenes a 1967 US federal law against nepotism in public appointments, but Kushner has said he will forgo a salary and is “committed to complying with federal ethics law”. Whether or not this law – originally passed in part because John F Kennedy nominated his brother Robert as attorney general – will prove to be an impediment remains to be seen.

What is certain is that Kushner’s fortune is built on his family’s real-estate empire, and now he has a job serving his father-in-law. Nepotism or not, his rise is a triumph of “family first”. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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