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The 2013 GOP NYC Mayoral Contenders

By Bob Hennelly, WBGO News
New York. July 8, 2013

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Judging by the lack of media attention you would assume there was no Republican primary for Mayor on September 10th but there is and it matters.

Despite the reality that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one, a Democrat has not held the City’s top job for twenty years. And this year there are three vying to extend the Dems losing streak.

The Republican field includes a grocer/oil tycoon, a former Deputy Mayor under Mayor Giuliani, and an apparel executive turned advocate for the homeless.  

GREEK IMMIGRANT NOW SELF-MADE BILLIONAIRE

John Catsimatidis story is a classic American immigrant self-made success story. According to his bio Catsimatidis, was born on Nisyros, a Greek island in 1948. He immigrated as an infant with his parents to Harlem. He dropped out of New York University in his senior year and was wildly successful in the grocery business with ten grocery stores by the time he was just 25 years old.

Today Catsimatidis oversees a multi-billion dollar company with diversified interests in real estate and energy and it is through that businessman’s prism he hopes to project his campaign message.

At a recent tenant’s forum at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant-Peter Cooper Village complex Catsimatidis tried to cast himself in the winning tradition of other self-styled fusion Mayoral candidates.   

 “I am running as a Republican liberal. Rudy Giuliani ran as a Republican Liberal and won. Bloomberg ran as a Republican Liberal and won. What is a Republican Liberal? I am a Republican Liberal because I am pro-business,” Catsimatidis told the well-attended forum. “The business community has to do well for the rest of the community to do well. I am a Republican because we are not going to give the streets back to the hoodlums.”

 “I also believe that the poor kids in the poor neighborhoods—we got to teach them better,” said the plain speaking Catsimatidis. “We have to teach them better and give them a helping hand and give them  the hope—just like  they gave me hope when I lived on 135th street—go neighborhood to neighborhood. Give those kids hope that they can make it too.”   

The Greek born tycoon is not your typical air brushed Mayoral contender that won’t admit what they don’t know in front of an audience.

When the tenant forum moderator asked Catsimatidis a question that included the fact that a portion of the Stuytown actually sits in an area that would qualify for evacuation in a Sandy type flooding event, Catsimatidis apologized for not knowing that detail about the complex.   

 “I don’t think evacuation is all that necessary,” said Catsimatidis. He went on to offer what he felt was a common sense approach to weathering challenges of another Sandy like event. “You have solid buildings here but what we have to do is put all essential equipment on the 10th floor. And what I have advocated for,  around the whole city, I am the only one that is advocating it—I don’t know why… make it so that the hall ways and elevators have to have emergency generators on a higher floor  to allow people to leave their apartments ,  have lights in their hallways and be able to take an elevator instead of being a prisoner in your own apartment.”    

LHOTA 2013-NOT A RUDY THIRD TERM!

It is late in the afternoon of a work day at Joe Lhota’s mid-town headquarters near Grand Central Station. There is an army of young people in preppy clothes stuffing envelopes and working the phones.

Lhota got high marks for his recent role as chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He was credited with skillfully guiding the MTA through the unprecedented damage and disruptions wrought by Sandy. He lives in Brooklyn and spent 15 years in the investment banking world. But it was his years at the side of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a top lieutenant that offer his most  relevant and yet controversial job reference for the Mayoralty. (Giuliani is a major Lhota backer.)

So, would a Lhota first term just be that third term that proved so elusive for former Mayor Giuliani?

 “No it won’t be Mayor Giuliani’s third term,” Lhota said when asked  “Though I am inextricably linked to Rudy. I was his budget director. I was his deputy mayor. That was twelve years ago. We have completely different personalities, completely different approaches on things. I have worked in the private sector more than I have worked in the public sector. Rudy has been a prosecutor. I am not a prosecutor. We have different approaches.”

But Lhota does align himself closely with former Mayor Giuliani on policing. Lhota is convinced that recent legislation passed by the City Council to bring more scrutiny to the NYPD and their controversial Stop and Frisk strategy would compromise the NYPD’s ability to further reduce crime in the city.  

“I think we are one Mayoral election away from seeing a reversal of what has happened over the last 20 years,” Lhota said. “ The   actions of the City Counci, the Community Safety Act, what I actually call the Community Un-safety Act, is indicative of what can happen very, very quickly in reversing the pro-active policing strategies that have reduced crime in some categories by almost 80 percent over the last twenty years. I mean the policies that were started under the Giuliani era,  with the police practices that were brought in  by Bill Bratton and then continued all the way through to Ray Kelly,  have been extraordinary. And we should be celebrating them not trying to reverse them.”

Lhota does praise Mayor Bloomberg on his support of the NYPD and the Mayor’s recent comprehensive after action report on making the five boroughs more resilient to another Sandy like event. But  he faults the Mayor for being too quick to delegate authority.   

Lhota says the CityTime time keeping system contract scandal is an example of what can happen when a Mayor is “too hands off.” The project’s initial $70 million dollar price tag ballooned to over $700 million on Bloomberg’s watch. Federal prosecutors, along with the city’s Department of Investigation, uncovered a sophisticated criminal conspiracy that cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars and resulted in several indictments and  convictions.  

“it’s interesting. I keep asking people who are involved in this project, as well as reporters, who was the project manager?,” Lhota asked. “Who was the one person in charge?  I can’t get an answer to that. To me that is the beginning of the problem. You always have to have a person in charge. You have to have a commander in place. …..They are the project manager and that project manager should know everything about that project.”  

RUNNING AS A REPUBLICAN BUT LOOKING FOR A TRUCE ON THE WAR ON DRUGS

George  McDonald was born in Spring Lake, New Jersey  and gave up being a registered Democrat to run for Mayor as a Republican.  

 McDonald has been a big supporter of Mayor Bloomberg and says he has a long time friendship with Governor Andrew Cuomo.  McDonald backed Bloomberg’s push for a third term but says his opposition to term limits goes back long before the Mayor engineered his third term.

At his upper Eastside office McDonald sounds a little nostalgic about his care free days as a top apparel executive making the scene more than twenty years ago  with former Jets Quarterback Joe Namath. So how did this successful business type make the conversion to advocate for the homeless?

“A woman died of malnutrition in Grand Central Terminal in 1985 and I went out there to find out why in the richest country in the world somebody could starve to death and I did not know anything about homelessness but we started feeding people,” McDonald said. “ A  friend and I raised some money. And so 10:00 o’clock at night for 700 nights in a row I was up on 46th and Vanderbilt feeding 400 or 500 people who lived in the terminal and what I came to understand was that they were there because they needed a room and a job. They kept telling me they appreciated the sandwich but needed a room and a job.”

McDonald’s Doe Fund was the result of McDonald’s unusual outreach to the city’s homeless.

McDonald says in 1990 the Fund had a $1.5 million dollar budget and was serving just 70 indigent folks looking to get a second chance in life with shelter and paid employment. Today he says  it is a $50 million dollar concern that’s helping 1,000 people as part of its Ready, Willing and Able  training and employment program. The Doe Fund calculates that so far it has played a central role in the success story of 18,000 formerly homeless people finding work and shelter.

McDonald’s says he’s running because the success of his Doe Fund can be replicated on a much bigger scale with him as Mayor. He sounds like a progressive Democrat when he talks about what he sees as the unacceptable collateral damage done by the war on drugs that prosecutes as a crime  something McDonald firmly believes should be a public health issue.  

“All the folks in America who consume drugs in America are not people of color. They are Caucasian people   that get their drugs delivered to their home,” McDonald Sid. “Meanwhile,  people of color are being arrested and imprisoned in their neighborhoods because they are buying and selling drugs  out on the street. That’s got to stop.”

 “We have to stop imprisoning poor people in America. It is a huge business now. It is a huge political business. We have to stop it,”McDonald said. We have to take these folks and when they come home from prison we have to educate them, we have to employ them and we have to include them in our system. That is the final frontier of crime reduction in New York City. That’s what we have left to do. We are the safest big city in America but if every person who comes home from prison a job now we will be the safest city in the world.”

McDonald says he is not worried about his lack of name recognition in the three man race. He says between the dozens of Mayoral forums already under his belt, and the extensive list of the ones still to come, he has a real shot.

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