The beret-loving Republican who wants to become mayor of New York | new York


Curtis Sliwa has a lot of cats.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, 16 felines were crammed into the Manhattan apartment that Sliwa, the Republican candidate for mayor of New York, shares with his wife.

One, called Tuna, is lounging at the window. Another is lying on the bed, two others are hiding in a corner. As Sliwa discusses her long-running campaign, a white and brown cat jumps from a tower onto a filing cabinet, before climbing onto the fridge and settling down to rest.

There isn’t much space to accommodate the cats – some of whom are being placed temporarily by Sliwa – and Sliwa and his wife. At 328 square feet (30.66 m2), the apartment is about the size of two parking spaces. (In New York City, the legal minimum size for a new apartment is 400 square feet, but apartments built before 1987 can be much smaller.)

Yet Sliwa, who founded the Red Beret Guardian Angels, a neighborhood protection group that has spread around the world, and was shot six times in an incident in the 1990s after speaking out against a powerful New York criminal family, seems accustomed to the lack of space.

“I end up working most of the time right outside this apartment,” Sliwa says with a heavy Brooklyn accent. “And then in the subways, campaigning in the streets. This is not your conventional campaign. Lots of one-on-one interactions with people.

The campaign must have been unconventional, as Sliwa struggled to raise funds and gain attention.

He beat Fernando Mateo, a better-funded businessman and political activist, in a Republican mayoral primary that mostly went unnoticed as the most vaunted Democratic candidates scrambled and played each other in the spring. Eric Adams, a former police officer and former member of the New York State Senate, won that primary and will face Sliwa in the November election.

Sliwa, 67, enjoys unprecedented notoriety in New York City, where he vigorously and sometimes dishonestly, has captured the attention of the press since the 1970s and has hosted a radio show for three decades. But with the majority of New Yorkers Democratic leaning, city politics are against him.

Another problem is Donald Trump. Sliwa did not vote for Trump, who did not officially weigh in the mayoral race, but the former president’s lies about the election are causing him problems.

“With Republicans the biggest problem I have is, ‘What’s the meaning of voting? It does not count. Because they are mostly Trumpers, ”Slilwa says. “You know, ‘It’s settled. They will never let you win. The machines don’t work.

“You have to have safe streets, safe subways. “ Photograph: Ali Smith / The Guardian

“Throughout the Republican primary, my biggest obstacle was convincing people to vote. You could see that they were tortured, they really start to believe that their votes don’t count.

Sliwa himself has expressed his belief that the 2020 US election was not stolen, a view that puts him at odds with Trump and his supporters. Some 691,682 New Yorkers, or 23%, voted for Trump in 2020, defying the city’s reputation as a pure bastion of liberal politics.

It was Sliwa’s outspokenness that got him shot in June 1992. Sliwa had criticized John Gotti, the head of the Gambino crime family, who was on trial at the time, and one day he hopped in a cab to find him. contained two members of the Mafia. One of them shot Sliwa six times in the abdomen; Sliwa survived after jumping over the gunman and diving out of the passenger side window.

Sliwa still has bullet fragments in her body and related health issues.

“They treated me and the surgeon said, ‘You’re going to have problems in 20 years,’” Sliwa says. “And then I really pushed. I was involved in competitive feeding, I finished third in eat hot dogs at Nathan’s at Coney Island. I was the world champion pickle eater. I pushed the limit.

“[Roughly] 20 years later, I felt this pain in my left side. I ended up with full ileitis, colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Mateo may have been the Trumpier candidate for the Republican primary, but Sliwa has secured the support of Rudy Giuliani, former Trump attorney and two-term New York mayor, who recently had his lawyer’s licenses suspended. At New York and Washington.

Sliwa has known Giuliani for a long time through her work on guardian angels. He praised Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” criminal policy in New York in the 1990s, and said he would institute a “broken windows” policy – a tactic to punish petty crimes that led to a disproportionate number of black and Latino men be arrested for relatively trivial offenses. Sliwa also shares Giuliani’s gift for hyperbole.

“I now take care of neighborhoods where there is anarchy and disorder that I have never seen before, because it is a learned behavior. You know, it’s like people realize that you can get away with it, that there are no consequences for your actions, ”he says.

Sliwa mentions issues such as youth “exploiting boomboxes” as examples of unacceptable behavior, in a troubling discussion of how to iron out a growing wave of crime in New York City.

“Everyone feels they can do what they want, when they want, however they want. And there is no consequence for their actions and you start to see it in all the different neighborhoods, ”he says.

“Behavior modification will help teach young men, especially and some young women, that they have to, you know, respect the rights of others because it doesn’t come from home. “

Part of Sliwa’s belief that he can overcome obstacles and defeat Adams in November is his theory that Adams has already been “anointed,” in his words, as the next mayor.

Sliwa thinks that means lower turnout. He also believes some Democrats will be kicked out of Adams after a grueling Democratic primary.

But Adams, who is notably pro-police, is probably the toughest of the Democratic candidates Sliwa could have faced. And Sliwa’s promises to bring law enforcement back to a 1990s standard that is now widely hated is anathema to most Democrats.

Younger voters, in particular, seem likely to run before a candidate whose promises of “behavior modification” seem from another era.

This is going to be disappointing for Sliwa, who thinks he has a millennial bona fide plugged in. He is more and more present on TikTok and is a passionate, if not unlikely, lover of electronic dance music. His main goal in restoring post-Covid New York is to bring back the bars, restaurants and nightlife of the city, even if his ideas on how to do it come back to the police: “You have to have safe streets, safe subways. “

“Because let’s face it, this is the way people are going to get around. And especially women, women are terrified because of perverts in the subway, violence, emotional turmoil, homelessness, sometimes it’s just scary, ”Sliwa says.

“But if the women aren’t going out and having fun, there’s a good chance a lot of the nightlife just can’t recover. Women outperform men. In many cases, women now have more income to spend than men.

As you would expect from a radio host, Sliwa can speak effortlessly and at length. He’s undeniably charismatic, with a practiced turn of phrase.

“I’m going to neighborhoods where the only Republican they’ve ever seen is Abraham Lincoln with a $ 5 bill,” he says more than once, as he describes his campaign strategy of essentially running for office. somewhere and let people talk to him.

Sliwa in front of his mayor's sign.
Sliwa in front of his mayor’s sign. Photograph: Ali Smith / The Guardian

It’s a strategy that partly arose out of necessity – he raised a fraction of Adams’ total money, and the Democrat benefited from millions of dollars spent on his behalf by secret Super Pac groups – but also, given Sliwa’s fame in the city, it makes sense.

In the streets near her apartment, Sliwa, wearing her distinctive red beret, is stopped a few steps away by people saying hello or wanting to speak to her. He hands out business cards to everyone and directs them to his website. Not everyone says they will vote for him, but many do.

“I appreciate your work,” a man said to Sliwa. “I hope you get there.” A woman says she will vote for him. Another man, Danny, stands in front of the local Sliwa bodega and waves to him. Danny wants to adopt one of his cats.

He suggested to Sliwa that it must be an exhausting way of campaigning and living, he says he’s used to it. To relax, he turns to his EDM music, which he first encountered while setting up a Guardian Angels chapter in London.

“I can’t wait to hear what comes out of Europe, because Europe is where everything is generated,” he says, adding: “Before, I was more of a dancer.

Sliwa still dances, but these days her kicking mostly takes place in her apartment.

“My wife will look at me and say, ‘Oh my god, you’re 67, Curtis.’ I say, ‘Yes, but it’s in me.’

“Some people take ecstasy, some people take other drugs, but for me electronic dance music is a natural mood lift.”

If Sliwa can defy the odds, the fundraising gap, and the stats that show New York City is a majority Democratic city in winning the municipal election, he likely won’t need electronic dance music to uplift his mood. .

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