Curtis Sliwa is certainly not new to the art of making headlines in New York City.
As the founder of the Guardian Angels, Mr. Sliwa and his trademark red beret have become a staple in high crime areas and at press conferences following high profile crimes. Years later he found a new life as a popular AM radio host; survived a shootout that left him with five gunshot wounds; and testified in a federal trial against John A. Gotti, descendants of the Gambino criminal family.
But now that Mr. Sliwa is the Republican candidate for New York City mayor, he’s in an unusual position: he doesn’t seem to be attracting voters’ attention.
“I’ve been familiar with local politics since I was a child – I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said in an interview. “This is the first time in the history of local electoral politics that there is basically a person who has to fight to be heard, even though I am on the line of the Republican Party.”
Mr Sliwa readily admits that in a city where the Democrats are six to one superior to the Republicans, he is a serious underdog in his race against his Democratic rival Eric Adams, President of Brooklyn borough.
In fact, in the weeks since winning the Democratic primary for New York City Mayor, Adams has visited the White House, appeared on “The View,” and posed himself as the future of the Democratic Party.
Mr Sliwa is struggling with a far less glamorous path.
He welcomed reporters to his 320 square meter studio apartment and gave individual tours through his strange living conditions with 16 rescue cats. He has held a number of press conferences, but few have received any significant coverage.
And when Mr. Sliwa did something he almost never does – removing his iconic red beret at a recent rally – the step was mocked when it revealed a brown line resembling a black and white cookie.
In doing so, Mr. Sliwa remains rather optimistic.
“Who runs around with a red beret and red satin jacket at the age of 67 and walks out there like a crime fighter and a superhero from our time who reads comics?” Said Mr Sliwa on a recent morning when he was sitting on a bench near his apartment drank tea in the Upper West Side.
“That’s a bit eccentric,” added Mr Sliwa.
A woman interrupted her: “You better be the next mayor. I believe in you.”
Another passer-by asked him to visit Albany to pass the bail reform. A paramedic asked for a photo together and told him that he worked with the Guardian Angels in Times Square in 1992.
Mr Sliwa may be a celebrity in New York, but he has failed to get off the ground as a candidate. He still hasn’t qualified for public matching funds – a benchmark that even his Republican rival Fernando Mateo achieved before he was defeated by Mr Sliwa in the primary. Mr. Sliwa won with almost 68 percent of the vote.
Mr. Adams has raised millions of dollars, is determined to raise at least $ 5 million, and pretends his victory is inevitable. Mr. Sliwa has raised approximately $ 590,000 and has only $ 13,000 available.
Mr. Sliwa faces other obstacles. He has never run for office, has no experience in government, and has never run a significant household. He has been criticized for making racist and sexist comments over the years, including wearing a sombrero on NY1 to imitate Latino immigrants; After making suggestive remarks about Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was then spokeswoman for the city council, he was suspended from NY1 for about a month. (He apologized for both incidents.)
He also admitted in 1992 that the Guardian Angels faked injuries as a publicity stunt.
“Curtis Sliwa ruined his credibility long ago when he admitted to faking kidnapping and other crimes for the public and regularly made heinous comments that mocked New York’s diversity,” said Evan Thies, a spokesman for Adams. “Every word that comes out of his mouth is either wrong or offensive or both.”
Still, Mr Sliwa argues that he can appeal to a wide range of New Yorkers: conservatives, independents, animal lovers, Andrew Yang supporters, and voters who want a change in Mayor Bill de Blasio, an ally of Mr Adams. Mr Sliwa also hopes left-wing Democrats who have doubts about Mr Adams will suspend the election.
The main political proposal from Mr Sliwa is property tax reform. He wants to get institutions like Madison Square Garden to pay more taxes – an idea that was adopted by Mr. Yang. Mr. Sliwa recently endorsed another Yang idea: a Universal Basic Income pilot program. His plan would make 500 New Yorkers $ 1,100 a month.
Mr. Sliwa also focused on a law-and-order message promising to hire thousands of police officers. But going up against Mr. Adams – a former police captain – makes it harder for him to stand out, said Peter T. King, the former longtime Republican congressman who supported Mr. Sliwa as mayor.
“Probably any of the other candidates would have made it easier for Curtis because they could argue that they were compensating the police,” King said. “It’s much more difficult to make that argument against Eric Adams.”
“As a pro-cop, I think these are the two best candidates we could have,” added Mr. King.
Mr. Sliwa also brazenly advertises animal lovers. He wants New York City to build a large no-kill shelter, similar to an ambitious venture in Austin, Texas, and offer a $ 1,000 debit card to people rescuing a cat from a shelter.
His collection of cats began when he and his fourth wife, Nancy Sliwa, moved into an apartment just steps from Central Park six years ago. She had rescued cats for years, and they took in sick or abandoned ones.
The cats recently roamed their home and gathered outside a window to watch pigeons. The walls were lined with “Curtis Sliwa for Mayor,” a collage of large cat photos and news clips of Mr. Sliwa over the years. A cat named Hope climbed onto the dining table; Tuna sauntered over a photographer’s lap; Apollo and Athena hid in a closet.
The apartment didn’t smell bad.
“They change the bedding three times a day,” said Mr Sliwa.
Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa have been New York City public figures for decades. Mr Sliwa said they first met in the 1990s when Mr Adams ran for Congress against Major Owens MP. Mr. Sliwa has two sons with his former girlfriend Melinda Katz, the Queens District Attorney, and has always seen Mr. Adams when attending events with Ms. Katz.
“Some Democrats were hostile,” said Mr Sliwa. “Eric Adams was always friendly.”
When the men met in a Memorial Day parade in Staten Island earlier this year, Mr. Sliwa thanked Mr. Adams for defending the Guardian Angels in a 2019 article in the New York Daily News. Mr. Adams told Mr. Sliwa that the vehemence of his main debate with Mr. Mateo surprised him.
“I said, ‘Eric, when I get to the general election you can expect something from it – that’s for sure,'” said Mr Sliwa. “Because you know me. I’m approaching you from the street. “
Mr Sliwa is unlikely to win, but he might get more votes than people expect, said Kenneth Sherrill, a retired political science professor at Hunter College.
“He might do surprisingly well,” said Professor Sherrill. “He’s more of a natural candidate than the last two Republican mayoral candidates. He is very well known. “
Mr Sliwa is already attacking Mr Adams over questions about his place of residence and his close relationship with Frank Carone, an electricity broker based in Brooklyn, and said he looks forward to their debates in October.
He said that an Adams government would be plagued by conflicts of interest.
“All it will be is pure nepotism,” he said. “If you’ve helped Eric, you’ll be rewarded. If you’ve stayed true to the Kings County’s democratic machine, you’ll be rewarded. “
Mr Sliwa appears to be returning few political favors. Before joining the Republican Party last year, he led the New York State Reform Party; In 2018, the last nationwide election, the Reform Party received the fewest votes for the governor out of 10 parties on the ballot.
Mr. Sliwa said he was planning to hold an event at City Hall with Mr. Yang’s supporters in the coming weeks. He expressed his admiration for Mr. Yang, who, like Mr. Sliwa, stood as an outsider who argued that the city was on the wrong track.
“Adams is hugged by de Blasio and Cuomo, and we should expect something else from him?” Said Mr. Sliwa.
He carried this message forward on a variety of recent events, including denouncing Mr de Blasio’s mandate to vaccinate restaurants and gyms, opposed teaching critical racial theory in schools, and opposed the building of a new prison in Queens .
The events were not covered well. Mr. Sliwa was not deterred.
“I’ve given press conferences in my life and nobody turned up,” he said. “I don’t take it as minor. I know the deck is stacked against me. “