Friday, August 30, 2013

NYC MAYOR | Can Catsimatidis Get GOP Nod?

John Catsimatidis campaigning for the GOP nomination for Mayor
of New York City. Unexpected developments in the Democratic primary
are making people take a second look at GOP candidates. Photo: Cats site.
I was invited to breakfast meeting last week to hear from a candidate for the GOP nomination for mayor of NYC, John Catsimatidis.

There was no charge for the event. He doesn't need to raise funds. He ranks 132nd on the Forbes 400 and 458th on a global list of billionaires, with a net worth of $2 billion.

That may make him look like a piker by Bloomberg standards, but Cats doesn't need to take six-to-one matching funds from the City of New York. All NYC taxpayers should be grateful for that.

The thrust of Cats's pitch to the group of 75 people who came to hear him was that he was a self-made man who worked his way in a few years from being a grocery store clerk on 137th Street in Harlem, to running ten stores with a yearly volume of $25 million, generating income to him of $1 million. This has become the Gristedes grocery chain.

He has also made investments of approximately $1 billion in real estate, and owns interests in aviation and a Hellenic newspaper among other businesses. He has been a major player in getting the Greek Orthodox churches to work together. Anyone who knows about political fundraising in the United States respects the commitment of Greek-Americans to their candidates.

Cats describes himself as a GOP liberal–pro-business but interested in helping others, young and old. Sounds like Bloomberg. He is pro-safety and would reappoint Ray Kelly as Police Commissioner. He likes trade schools where graduates can go straight into jobs–electrical, carpentry, nursing, other health care services. He would bring in a Deputy Mayor who would recruit high-tech companies to come to New York City.

How would Cats differentiate himself from the other main GOP contender, Joe Lhota? He has the backing of former Mayor Giuliani and is more widely known as a government executive than John Catsimatidis.

Cats's response:
  • Joe Lhota has a bad temper.
  • He called Mayor Bloomberg "an idiot".
  • He called the Port Authority police "mall cops".
  • Lhota can't raise enough money to win. Cats would put his own money into the race. (Both Lhota and de Blasio will abide by spending limits to qualify for matching funds.)

L to R: Nick Sakellariadis, Harry Wilson and John Catsimatidis.

A mid-August Quinnipiac poll of likely GOP voters showed Lhota - former deputy to Mayor Giuliani and former MTA chairman - with 43 percent of likely primary voters, versus 37 percent for John Catsimatidis. The margin of error for this poll is 9.4 percentage points, which means that Lhota and Catsimatidis are in a statistical dead heat. Compared with the month before, Lhota lost 6 percentage points while John Catsimatidis increased his support by 2 percentage points. George McDonald is in third place with 9 percent.

My prediction is that Cats's potential as a candidate will be directly dependent on whether or not he does what he says he will do, i.e., hire people who are "better than me". He needs to rein in his impulses.

As an example, Cats promises to dig up all the concrete barriers (or, from a pedestrian point of view, islands). Citing the situation on 7th Avenue, he sees the battle as one between motorists and bicyclists. Sure, the Citibikes would have to be evicted from a lot of the areas where they are now protected by concrete islands. But pedestrians, especially seniors and children (for whom Cats has special concern), and parents of young children, and dog-walkers, have also become enamored of the greater ease of crossing the wide avenues with an island as a refuge on the way. The avenues are scary places to cross, especially for older people and people with disabilities. Those islands are lifesavers. Wholesale destruction of the islands would be a huge setback for NYC.

John Catsamitidis at this event and at others I have attended came across as hugely likeable. However, he needs someone to buy him a bigger-sized jacket and shirts with vertical stripes to disguise his Santa Claus figure. He should assemble a team of people with experience in different aspects of New York City government. He should announce who they are. Then he should listen hard to them before he announces with a wave of his hand what he is going to do. He had me eating out of his hand and then, like the 13th cuckoo of the cuckoo clock, he loses my confidence with a grand statement that appears to reflect his personal self-interest as CEO of a large grocery chain.

His chances of becoming mayor when Christine Quinn was the front-runner were remote. But NYC's business establishment is not going to be enthusiastic about a Bill de Blasio mayoralty and they will be looking for a Republican to support. When Cats first started campaigning, he did not convey seriousness about his candidacy - too ready with the wisecrack. He has taken a few steps towards being taken seriously, picking up a few allies. In the volatile atmosphere of the 2013 elections he just might be able to win the GOP nomination. In this crazy year, voters for the first time have to choose a successor to a 12-year mayor who looks better to many than the people who want to replace him. As the negatives of each of the candidates are ferreted out, Cats's prospects of winning in September and November have risen.

To find out more about candidates you hadn't paid any attention before, go to the Campaign Finance Board, which has an on-line Primary Election Voter Guide now available here or here.

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