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 new life as a popular AM radio host; survived a gun battle that left him with five gunshot wounds; and testified in a federal lawsuit against John A. Gotti, the descendant of the Gambino family.
But now that Mr Sliwa is the Republican candidate for mayor of New York, he finds himself in an unusual position: he can’t seem to get the attention of voters.
“I’ve known local politics for years since I was a kid – 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 you basically have a person who has to fight to be heard even though I am on the Republican Party line.”
Mr. Sliwa readily acknowledges that in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans six times, he is a serious underdog in his race against his Democratic rival Eric Adams, the president of the Brooklyn borough.
Indeed, in the weeks following his victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York, Mr. Adams visited the White House, appeared on “The View” and proclaimed himself the future of the Democratic Party.
Mr. Sliwa had to face a much less glamorous path.
He hosted reporters in his 320 square foot studio, offering one-on-one tours of his bizarre living conditions with 16 rescue cats. He held a series of press conferences, but few received notable coverage.
And when Mr. Sliwa did something he hardly ever does – take off his iconic red beret at a recent rally – the move was criticized when it revealed a tan line that was reminiscent of a black and white cookie.
Through it all, Mr. Sliwa remains rather optimistic.
“Who, at 67, runs around in a red beret and red satin jacket and comes out like a crime fighter and superhero these days reading comics?” Sliwa said recently while drinking tea on a bench near his apartment on the Upper West Side.
“It’s a bit eccentric,” Sliwa added.
A woman interrupted him: “You better be the next mayor. I believe in you.”
Another passer-by urged him to come to Albany to sort out bail reform. A paramedic asked for a photo together and told them he worked with the Guardian Angels in Times Square in 1992.
Mr Sliwa may be a celebrity in New York City, but he has so far failed to generate momentum as a candidate. He still did not qualify for matching public funds – a benchmark that even his Republican rival Fernando Mateo achieved before being beaten by Mr Sliwa in the primary. Mr. Sliwa won with nearly 68% of the vote.
Mr. Adams has already raised millions of dollars, is determined to raise at least $ 5 million more and acts like his victory is inevitable. Mr. Sliwa has raised approximately $ 590,000 and only has $ 13,000 on hand.
Mr. Sliwa faces other obstacles. He never ran for office, has no experience in government, and has never managed a large budget. He has been criticized for making racist and sexist comments over the years, including wear a sombrero on NY1 to mimic Latino immigrants; after making obscene remarks about Melissa Mark-Viverito, then president of the city council, he was suspended by NY1 for about a month. (He owns apologized for both incidents.)
He also admitted in 1992 that the guardian angels had faked crimes and injuries as publicity stunts.
“Curtis Sliwa destroyed his credibility a long time ago when he admitted to faking kidnapping and other crimes for publicity purposes and regularly spat out vile comments that mocked the diversity of New York City,” Evan said. Thies, an Adams spokesperson. “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 from ally Mayor Bill de Blasio. by Mr. Adams. Mr Sliwa is also hopeful that left-wing Democrats who have doubts about Mr Adams will not participate in the election.
Mr. Sliwa’s main political proposal is property tax reform. He wants institutions like Madison Square Garden to pay more taxes – an idea adopted by Mr. Yang. Mr. Sliwa recently supported another Yang idea: a pilot program for universal basic income. His plan would give 500 New Yorkers $ 1,100 a month.
Mr. Sliwa also focused on a public order message, promising to hire thousands of police officers. But running against Mr Adams – a former police captain – makes it harder for him to stand out, said Peter T. King, the longtime former Republican congressman who backed Mr Sliwa as mayor.
“Probably any of the other candidates would have made it easier for Curtis, because he could argue that they were funding the cops,” King said. “It is much more difficult to make this argument against Eric Adams.”
“As a pro-cop, these are the two best candidates from my perspective that we could have,” King added.
Mr. Sliwa also shamelessly courts animal lovers. He wants New York City to create a major deathless shelter similar to an ambitious effort in Austin, Texas, and offer a $ 1,000 debit card to people who save a cat from an animal shelter.
His feline collection began when he moved in with his fourth wife, Nancy Sliwa, to an apartment a short walk from Central Park six years ago. She saved cats for years and they took in those who were sick or abandoned.
The cats walked around their apartment recently and gathered outside a window to watch the pigeons. The walls were lined with “Curtis Sliwa for Mayor” signs, a collage of large photos of cats and news clips of Mr. Sliwa over the years. A cat named Hope climbed onto the dining table; Thon was walking on the knees of a photographer; Apollo and Athena hid in a closet.
The apartment didn’t smell bad.
“You change the litter box three times a day,” Sliwa said.
Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa have been public figures in New York for decades. Mr Sliwa said they first met in the 1990s when Mr Adams ran for Congress against Major Owens’ representative. Mr Sliwa has two sons with his former girlfriend, Melinda Katz, District Attorney for Queens, and used to see Mr Adams when he attended events with Ms Katz.
“Some Democrats were antagonistic,” Sliwa said. “Eric Adams has always been sympathetic.”
When the men met at a Memorial Day parade on Staten Island earlier this year, Mr Sliwa thanked Mr Adams for standing up for the guardian angels in a essay in the New York Daily News in 2019. Mr. Adams told Mr. Sliwa that the ferocity of his main debate with Mr. Mateo had surprised him.
“I said, ‘Eric, if I participate in the general election, you can expect that for sure,'” Sliwa said. “Because you know me. I come to you from the street.
Mr Sliwa is unlikely to win, but he could get more votes than expected, said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College.
“He could do surprisingly well,” said Professor Sherrill. “He’s more of a natural candidate than the last two Republican candidates for mayor. He has a huge notoriety.
Mr Sliwa is already attacking Mr Adams over questions about his whereabouts and his close relationship with Frank Carone, a broker from Brooklyn, and he said he looked forward to their hearings in October.
He said an Adams administration would be plagued by conflicts of interest.
“All it’s going to be is pure cronyism,” he said. “If you helped Eric, you will be rewarded. If you have been loyal to the Kings County Democratic machine, you will be rewarded.
Mr. Sliwa appears to have little political favor to return. Before join the republican party last year he led the New York State Reform Party; in 2018, the last statewide election, the Reform Party obtained the fewest votes for governor among 10 parties on the ballot.
Mr. Sliwa said he plans to hold a municipal event with Mr. Yang’s supporters in the coming weeks. He expressed his admiration for Mr. Yang, who, like Mr. Sliwa, introduced himself as an outsider who argued that the city was on the wrong track.
“Adams is being kissed by de Blasio and Cuomo, and we’re supposed to expect him to do something different?” Mr. Sliwa said.
He has continued to get this message across in a series of recent events, including those where he denounced Mr de Blasio’s vaccination mandate for restaurants and gyms, has opposed the teaching of critical race theory in schools and opposed the construction of a new prison in Queens.
The events were not well covered. Mr. Sliwa was not deterred.
“I have done press conferences in my life where no one has shown up,” he said. “I don’t take it as an affront. I know the game is against me.