Stunts, Cats and Crime: Sliwa’s Colorful Run for NYC Mayor

New York City Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa speaks at a campaign event in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Wearing his signature red beret, Curtis Sliwa is stroking one of his 16 rescue cats in a campaign ad. He’s in the subway with his Guardian Angels anti-crime patrol. He’s breaking up restaurant brawls in Little Italy.

This is the how Republican nominee is mounting an improbable quest to become New York City’s mayor — always in his red hat.

Sliwa has spent decades as a stunt-loving New York character, with a knack for keeping news cameras around and a history of bombastic statements.

The Republican insists his campaign this year is not a long shot, but more of a David-and-Goliath slingshot, with Sliwa as a streetwise “man of the people” speaking out about crime and disorder.

“I’m the only Republican who can go into neighborhoods where the only Republican they’ve ever seen is Abraham Lincoln on a $5 bill and be well-received,” Sliwa told The Associated Press this week in an interview at his cat-filled apartment.

“I think most people don’t necessarily see me as a Republican. They see me more as a populist. ‘That’s Curtis. We know him,'” Sliwa said. He says the fact that he won the Republican nomination despite having never voted for Trump is a sign he can improbably win over Democrats.

At a campaign rally later that day, he dismissed the idea that winning was impossible, saying he’s “been David versus Goliath” his entire life.

Sliwa is widely expected to lose next month’s election to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Democrat and former New York City police captain who would be the city’s second Black mayor.

In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1, Adams emerged from a crowded primary field as the candidate with a more moderate image, a pro-business approach and singular perspective on crime that blended his time with the NYPD, his past advocacy calling for reform in the department and experiences of police brutality while a teenager.

Sliwa, 67, has been a ubiquitous New York figure since he founded the Guardian Angels anti-crime group in 1979. The unarmed unit of young men and women clad in red berets and matching jackets started by patrolling New York City’s then-crime-plagued subway system and expanded out into the city before setting up chapters across the U.S.

The 320-square foot Upper West Side apartment that Sliwa shares with his wife Nancy is decorated with copious campaign posters and images of himself and their many cats. Part of one wall is covered with old newspaper clippings and posters of the Guardian Angels’ early exploits.

Sliwa won the Republican primary earlier this year after defeating restauranteur Fernando Mateo.

Two decades of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in the mayor’s office prove Republicans can — or at least once could — overcome the Democrats’ advantage in the city.

But Sliwa’s style and reputation, Christina Greer, an associate professor of Political Science at Fordham University, said, has meant that he is “not really taken seriously by a certain segment of the population.”

Last summer, when Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio banned swimming at the city’s beaches in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Sliwa staged a protest at Coney Island, first by sticking a cardboard cutout of de Blasio’s face on the beach and kicking sand on it. He then swam for about an hour, in a wetsuit and his red beret, ignoring the orders of city parks officers to get out of the water.



Updated Sunday, October 17, 2021 at 12:22 pm .