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Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/19/21
New York City mayoral candidate and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa talked with me about his quest to run as a Republican in a heavily Democratic city. Sliwa, who recently took a leave of absence from his job as a successful talk radio host, communicates some big ideas – particularly on crime and the economy – that national leaders should take note of. We also spoke of how his faith upbringing has helped shape is views on public issues.
JWK: What do you think you bring to the New York City mayoral race that the other candidates don’t?
Curtis Sliwa: I think when you look at the Democratic candidates, they’re all running away from law and order. Some of them are actually wanting to defund the police even more than they already have…Then, with the Republicans, (law and order is) not really their forte. That’s not their strength. I think when voters think of law and order, public safety, protecting people in the streets, subways and parks and support for the police, they’re gonna think of the guy who started the Guardian Angels and continues to run it for (now) 42 years – Curtis Sliwa. That’s the person who is synonymous with what is the number-one issue because if there is no return of public safety, if there’s no refunding of the police, then everything else that people are trying to put into place in order to spur a recovery will not work. If people are afraid to walk the streets, to come into the city, to ride the subways, to go through the parks, then no matter what you do this city can’t…become prosperous and vibrant again.
JWK: What are your thoughts regarding terrible violent attacks on Asians that have recently been in the news?
CS: This was going on back in February of a year ago. We warned the elected officials (about) what was happening but they didn’t pay attention. There were a number of attacks by emotionally-disturbed persons, thugs (and) gang members preying on Asians because, in their warped way of thinking, they connected (Asian people with) what was happening in Wuhan at that time. Remember, the images were stark – people being dragged out of their houses or were boarded into their houses. It was mind boggling. So, for those who were emotionally-disturbed it was like “Oh, they’re carrying the coronavirus!” And for those who just didn’t like Asians to begin with – or they liked abusing people – this was an excuse to attack them.
So, we (the Guardian Angels) started patrols back in March of a year ago in Chinatown, in Flushing, on 8th Avenue in Brooklyn and Sunset Park – which is now the largest Chinese-American community in New York City, a lot of people don’t know that – and also by 69th Street and Roosevelt which is a huge Filipino community with other Asians mixed in. We’ve been doing it for a year (and) getting a lot of Asians involved as part of self-help. When a community is under attack, well, then you’ve gotta patrol. The best way (for civilians to do that) is (as part of) the Guardian Angels.
Of late, we’ve seen a litany of speeches, forums (and) rallies. All of that is good. It raises awareness – but there’s no call to action. It’s like “Okay, you want more police, right?” Then some of the crowd is like “No, no, no. Defund the police.” Well, then, what are you gonna do? Whether you believe in refunding the police, as I do, or you believe in defunding the police, as some do, you gotta fill the void. The Guardian Angels have already done that.
So, the question is, you can moan and groan, shout and holler (but) what are you doing?…Why not just enforce the laws that are already on the books? But you’ve altered that. You have a no-bail provision which then allows (suspects) to get a “disappearance ticket” – that’s what I call it. A “disappearance ticket” is (officially) referred to as a “desk appearance ticket.” They (the suspects) walk out of the local precinct and, obviously, they continue to (commit crime) over and over. They’re as shocked as everyone that they’re not going to jail. They’re shocked!
JWK: You’re also opposed to taking away qualified immunity for cops.
CS: Which is not just going to affect police…All the elected officials have qualified immunity (including) judges and district attorneys who sometimes make wrong decisions by unfairly putting men or women away who never committed a crime. They all have qualified immunity.
So, you mean to tell me that, out of all the civil servants, the one group that you strip qualified immunity from (is) the police who are responsible for public safety. Well, that means soon it will be court officers, correctional officers, security officers who are under the supervision of the NYPD in the schools (and) traffic control agents who are under the supervision of the NYPD. You’re, basically, paralyzing public safety in all aspects to the point that they’ll hesitate to get involved. How are you going to recruit people to join when they’re gonna have to go to Lloyd’s of London and try to get their own personal immunity insurance?
JWK: You’ve also been involved in trying to get some help for the mentally ill and the homeless. What would you do as mayor?
CS: Number one, we’ve already seen that the man who has single-handedly destroyed this city – (NYC Mayor) Bill de Blasio – created this bogus/placebo organization called Thrive that his wife runs – and has run right into the ground. I haven’t seen any presence of Thrive intervention folks (on the streets) in the five years that it’s existed. People are scratching their heads and saying there’s more mentally ill roaming the streets, subways and parks than ever before. So, you have to remove them. This is not a constitutional matter of violating their rights. No. They need to be removed, brought into a mental healthcare facility and provided their meds. If you don’t do that, you’re just gonna continue to have this anarchy and these random violent attacks that paralyze the city.
There’s a law called Kendra’s Law which allows you to place them into a mental facility if they’re not taking their medication (and) if they haven’t gone to their therapeutic sessions…It allows you to remand them into a mental healthcare hospital. The problem is that when (NYS Governor Andrew) Cuomo got elected, there were 30,000 psychiatric beds. There are now only 3,000 available to us. That’s a major reduction. He won’t take responsibility.
As a result of the pandemic, de Blasio ordered the release of some those who were at hospitals in mental health facilities so that they could clear the beds for COVID-19 patients. Well, guess what? (Now) they’re everywhere (with) no attempt to go out and retrieve them and get them back into the care that they rightfully need and we as a society should provide them. There’s no plan coming out of City Hall and I haven’t really seen any of my adversaries come up with any kind of a plan that seems workable.
JWK: Speaking of COVID, it’s devastated the New York City businesses. What would you do to bring the economy back?
CS: You have to open up the city. It is a ghost town. You just look at other states and other large cities and they are opening up…their retail establishments, their entertainment complexes, their cultural complexes. New York, which has always been the epicenter for our world’s economy – for entertainment, for culture, restaurants, bars, retail facilities – is the slowest to get back into action.
I just look at one area – and it’s sort of a litmus test for the whole city – Times Square. (The Times Square area) is about one-tenth of the land mass of New York City and yet it produces 15% of the economic activity (and) contributes five-billion dollars to a 92-billion dollar budget that the city has. There are 182,000 commercial tenants in that area alone. Most of it is vacant now. You’ve got what? 46 hotels. 41 theaters. Many of the hotels have been converted to…shelters for the homeless and the emotionally disturbed. Nobody’s gonna want to stay in those hotels once people are able to travel and return if this continues.
And the theaters have to open up – both Broadway and off-Broadway. You walk down 42nd Street – the main part of Times Square – 80% of it is vacated. So, we could be standing in Times Square at let’s say 12 midnight and there’s probably more activity in downtown Buffalo…Between the mayor and the governor, they have refused to open New York City up and, as a result, our recovery is almost nil. Most importantly, how are you gonna get people to return if you haven’t opened up what was the pearl of the world?
JWK: Some of your opponents want to tax the rich. How would you raise revenue?
CS: First of all, how ridiculous. If you look at the wealthy and those that have equity, they call them “the one percenters.” They pay 42% of the personal income tax in New York City. How do you replace that (if they leave)? How do you support the social service network that we have created in a 92-billion dollar budget?
Then, you look at realtors – all different sizes, from the small mom and pop to the mid-level to the major realtors and developers. 50% of the budget of 92-billion dollars is derived from property tax, mortgage tax, transfer tax. So, we’re driving these people with equity out and they either abandon their property or the property is sold devalued. They sell it in a fire sale. How are you gonna develop revenue? If the assessments are dropping and the property values are dropping, your ability to collect taxes off that property is diminished – and yet you want to provide more and more social programs?
So, you have (Democratic Mayoral Candidate Andrew) Yang with the guaranteed income (of $2,000). Where you gonna get that money from? He says it’ll cost a billion dollars…We’re on the brink of fiscally dissolving even with this massive bailout from Washington. That just bailed us out of costs that are derived from the pandemic. We were already at fault. We were already six-billion dollars in debt. (But, on the other hand, Senate Majority Leader) Schumer says (the government will) bail you out. Why are we raising taxes if the majority leader of the country – not a Republican, not a conservative – is saying (you’re getting) more than enough money Albany, more than enough money New York City. You don’t need to raise your taxes.
Instead, they just decide they hate the wealthy, they hate capitalism. They’re just driven by the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) and the AOC/All Out Crazy justice warriors. They want to drive them all out. In fact, look at what AOC says publicly. It’s in her platform – don’t pay rent. Just don’t pay rent. Commercial users, residents, don’t pay rent. The landlords will be forced to abandon their property. In a (seemingly) drug-induced psychosis, she thinks the city and state will seize the properties and then repurpose them into affordable housing. That didn’t happen in the seventies. That led to abandonment, arson, property values dropping and a million people leaving New York City…Why would we not want to learn from that mistake? But AOC and the DSA are hell-bent on driving landlords and people who have equity (and) wealth out of News York City. If anything, the pandemic proved you don’t have to be here anymore. You don’t have to be here. It’s not the place where you have to hang a shingle if you’re in business.
JWK: So, how would you raise revenue?
CS: You start with Jimmy Dolan (and) Madison Square Garden (and) the sweetheart deal going all the way back to (former NYC Mayor) Ed Koch and every elected official since. Each year he doesn’t have to pay what would be the equivalent of 42-million dollars in property tax. I didn’t know that he’s Pope Jimmy Dolan. I didn’t know that MSG is a nonprofit. They make a helluva lot of money. And yet the politicians – the elected officials – have protected him.
Then, you look at NYU with their endowment. It’s close to five-billion dollars. Columbia University, even more – close to eleven-billion dollars. They’re now charging students the same outrageous rates of tuition for virtual training because most of their classes are not open for in-school training. And they don’t pay any taxes. Why is that? Are they gonna threaten to leave? Go ahead! Leave! Those are the people who should be paying taxes to offset what we’re going to be losing because of the economic decline that we’re in. To me, that’s a no-brainer.
Then, as we move further down the scale, it should be a two-percent property tax right across the board. This will particularly affect the inequality of the property taxes as they are applied in the outer boroughs. So, for instance, if we take Comrade de Blasio, he has two properties right there in Park Slope…Nearby Carroll Gardens, as an example, some of those neighborhoods have brownstones that are worth millions and yet, if I lived in Eltingville (Staten Island), Dyker Heights (Brooklyn), Little Village (Queens), Morris Park (The Bronx) or a neighborhood similar to those blue-collar working-class neighborhoods (I’d be paying) more property taxes. How can that be? And yet that’s never been addressed. (Mayor) de Blasio has never addressed it. So, I would have a two-percent cap (and) level the playing field through the assessments. Most importantly, if you’re 65 or older – a senior citizen – because we want you to stay and it’s the dwelling that you live in, no property taxes for you because we need you to stay. Already, too many (seniors) are just fleeing to south of the Mason-Dixon Line…(where) taxes are so much cheaper, (there’s) quality of life (and) you get more bang for the dollar. (The seniors) are fleeing and this is gonna cause a major problem.
So, those are the tenets that I’ve put forward.
JWK: Tell me about your Right to Business Plan.
CS: Right to Business is capitalism through and through. There are many men (and) many women – whether they’ve been here for four generations or they’ve just arrived – who have a dream to get into business but there are so many fees, fines, regulations, lines you have to stand on and time periods that you have to wait. It takes this bureaucracy so long to process what it is you need to legally get into business that it makes it almost impossible for some.
So, we want to streamline that process. We want to cancel the fees and the subsidies that you have to pay in order to dot the i and cross the t to legally get into business for two years. We want to encourage people to get into this empty space of which there is so much (and) start a business – even if you have to subdivide some of these commercial properties – and give them an opportunity to live the American Dream.
We talk about (wanting) to reward people who have initiative (and) who have a desire to get involved to sell products and to be merchants and vendors. Well, we need to speed up this arcane process that prevents so many from opening up a legal business. And now is the perfect time because as you walk down the corridors which are known as commercial retail spaces…empty, empty, empty, empty, empty. Why wouldn’t we want to give people an opportunity now and create a much lower price for them to get involved in setting up a business? That means working with the landlords, making adjustments, trying to create an atmosphere that gives them an opportunity to start a business.
JWK: As an animal lover myself, I find it interesting that you want to end kill animal shelters.
CS: We want to eliminate all these kill shelters that the city subsidizes through Animal Control. So, they will become no-kill shelters.
Actually, the first candidate ever to promote that idea was (my former WABC-AM boss) John Catsimatidis back in 2013 in his Republican primary against Joe Lhota. He lost that but that was one of his main platforms and that is something that I will definitely put into effect because there are so many people who want these dogs and cats.
JWK: This is Beliefnet, so let me ask you this. You were raised Catholic. Even the name of the Guardian Angels would seem to flow from that sensibility. What role does your upbringing and faith play in informing your policy prescriptions?
CS: I would say, first and foremost, I was raised on the traditional notion that selfless service brings you closer to God. That was the tenet in my household. How do you get closer (to God) and act in a God-like way? Well, you know, if you had the wherewithal, some people thought it’s what you contributed on Sunday at the various times that they would pass the basket and collect money for different projects. But, in our household, we always believed it’s selfless service. So, I was encouraged at a young age (to) do good things (and) don’t worry about how you’re going to be compensated because good things will happen as a result of you doing good things. Don’t ever ask when, why or how. You do it because it’s the right thing to do and that’s what you derive enjoyment from. I saw that in my parents and, obviously, it rubbed off on me.
The second thing, the whole notion of Guardian Angels is not a religious one. It’s a secular organization but I did study from the Baltimore Catechism in elementary school, parochial school. Almost from Day One, you see the image of the guardian angel hovering over the children on their way to school as the trolls are under the bridge attempting to snatch them, hurt them (and) violate them. So, that’s an image that was very powerful.
And, also, I was searching for a name that would distance me (and the organization) from being called Hell’s Angels or any of the gangs that were so prevalent back in the seventies. So, I said people are gonna think we’re a gang because I’m starting this in the Bronx which was in the heyday of gang activity. Well, what kind of gang would call themselves the Guardian Angels? And it would sort of give you an idea of what it is that we were trying to accomplish. You know, to guard, to protect. And so the name definitely served us well. But it’s all part of the concept of selfless service (and) the Good Samaritan ethic.
We saw that (recently) when that elderly Filipino woman was nearly stomped to death on West 43rd Street while she was coming from church. We saw grown men – big men – watching it (from) within the vestibule of the building that they were the security of. I mean closing the door! They have subsequently been fired and rightfully so but our attitude was no, no, no, no. You’ve got to get involved. You’ve got to risk your life for people you don’t even know. It’s the Good Samaritan ethic. That’s the concept of the Guardian Angels.
JWK: And, of course, you do instruct your members to get the cops when they can.
CS: Well, now it’s a lot easier. Everybody has a cell phone. You can call 911. But, when we first started, in 1979 and into the new century, you had to depend on pay phones – most of which had been broken into or vandalized. So, when you went out on patrol, you were on your own. There was no way to get the police.
JWK: How do you rate the political leadership we currently have on the local and national level?
CS: I think now when we think of leadership it’s almost like it’s (for them) a form of idolatry…They’re pretentious, they (think) they’re omnipotent. You make a suggestion (and) they dismiss it. You know, “Who are you?” I know better.”
…We’re a city at odds. We’re a nation at odds. Everybody has their own way of doing things – which I respect – but it’s almost like if you don’t agree with the leader, the leadership doesn’t even give you the time of day. I’m saying, excuse me, no matter what your politics, most of us still have to pay taxes. We fund government. We’re at you beck and call because we don’t get to choose where our tax dollars go. And you don’t even have a moment to listen to us just because you think we might be adversarial or not in agreement with you?
So, I think we have to (reach out) – especially in New York City (where) there are eight Democrats for every one Republican registered. How do you run in New York City as a Republican – especially now – if, in fact, many of the people who are experts, many of the people who can help, many of the people who have experience are Democrats? You have to figure out a way to sit down and (say) “Okay, that’s a good idea but how are we gonna do more of that for less?”
JWK: You probably don’t want to look too far ahead but could you see yourself running for state office or nationally at some point?
CS: No. Look, I’m 67 now. I’ve had all kinds of setbacks – physical setbacks. I’ve been shot five times on the orders of John Gotti, Sr., John Gotti, Jr., the Gambinos. I’ve had prostate cancer. I’ve had ileitis, colitis, chronic Chrohn’s disease. I’ve been able to overcome all of that, took a licking and came back ticking. But, if I do the job that I know I can do in City Hall (and) let’s say after four years I say “Let’s give it another go because I got so much more to do,” I think I will have used all the excess energy in my tank – and I have an endless supply of energy. Then I’ll be ready to be buried in a cardboard box in a potter’s field at the rate I’m going. But, at least it will say on whatever stone is put up “Curtis Sliwa: He died, He tried.” I’m gonna give it my all.
JWK: Final question. What odds do you give yourself of winning this race?
CS: I have a very good opportunity to win the Republican nomination…(I have) the endorsement of the Staten Island GOP which is the strongest in the city because they’ve (actually) elected officials – recently Nicole Malliotakis in a heated battle for that (congressional) seat. They have Assembly people there. Theyhave City Council people. They have a strong structure. And then, across the Verrazzano (Bridge) I’ve received the endorsement of Brooklyn (Republicans)…So, I think I have a good opportunity to win. I don’t take it for granted.
And then I can’t wait to get into the general election one-on-one with a Democratic opponent because the media will no longer be able to marginalize Republicans as they’ve done (up to) now. Most people don’t even know there’s a Republican primary. Most people don’t even know the candidates involved. That’s because, if you notice, all mainstream media promotes are the Democrats running. The Democrats had this to say about the economy. The Democrats has this to say about defunding the police. The media gives you the impression that on June 22nd, the outcome of the Democratic primary will (determine) the next mayor of the City of New York. Over my dead body.
All you gotta do is look at George Pataki. Nobody knew who he was. He beat the iconic figure in the Democratic Party who already had a place on Mount Rushmore. He would have been number five to George Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. There was a place for Mario (Cuomo). They were already positioning it. He was on his way to the White House and a guy from Peekskill, New York that nobody knew shocked the world. He was fifteen percentage points down three weeks before the (election) and he beat this iconic figure. So, you can’t rule out the Republicans. Just look at the twenty years that we had Republican leadership in City Hall. Compare that to what we have now. You have chaos now and anarchy. You had law and order then and progress on all levels. Which would you prefer? That’s what comes with a Republican mayor. With Democrats, you’re gonna have more chaos, more crime.
Note: For more on Sliwa’s ideas and his mayoral campaign you can check out CurtisSliwaforMayor.com.