Curtis Sliwa has a lot of cats.
One Tuesday afternoon, 16 cats were packed in the Manhattan apartment that Sliwa, the Republican candidate for New York City mayor, shares with his wife.
One called tuna is in the window. Another is lying on the bed, two more are hiding in a corner. While Sliwa talks about his sprawling campaign, a brown and white cat leaps from a tower onto a filing cabinet before climbing onto the refrigerator and retiring.
There is not much space for the cats – some of which Sliwa keeps temporarily in care – and Sliwa and his wife. At 30.66 m², the apartment is about the size of two parking spaces. (In New York, the legal minimum size for a new apartment is 400 square feet, but apartments built before 1987 can be much smaller.)
Still, Sliwa, who founded the 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, appears to be Lack of space.
“In the end, I often only operate from this apartment,” says Sliwa with a heavy Brooklyn accent. “And then in the subway, campaigning on the streets. It’s not your conventional campaign. Lots of personal contact with people. “
The campaign had to be unconventional because Sliwa struggled to raise money and attention.
He defeated the better-funded Fernando Mateo, a businessman and political activist, in a Republican mayoral primary that went largely unnoticed as the more vaunted Democratic candidates struggled through the spring. Eric Adams, a former police officer and former member of the New York State Senate, won this primary and will run against Sliwa in the November election.
67-year-old Sliwa benefits from unprecedented notoriety in New York City, where he has vigorously and sometimes dishonestly solicited press attention since the 1970s and has hosted a talk radio show for three decades. But since the majority of New Yorkers are Democratic, the city’s politics are against him.
Another problem is Donald Trump. Sliwa did not vote for Trump, who officially did not interfere in the mayoral election, but the former president’s election lies are causing him problems.
“With the Republicans, the biggest problem I have is, ‘What’s the point in voting? It doesn’t count. ‘ Because they are mostly trumpers, ”says Slilwa. “You know, ‘It’s fixed. They will never let you win. The machines don’t work. ‘
‘You need safe roads, safe subways.’ Photo: Ali Smith / The Guardian
“All along the Republican primary, my biggest obstacle was convincing people to vote. You could tell they were being tortured, they really believe that their votes don’t count. “
Sliwa himself has spoken out loudly for his belief that the 2020 US elections were not stolen, a position that puts him at odds with Trump and his supporters. About 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 Sliva’s boldness that resulted in his being shot in June 1992. Sliwa had criticized John Gotti, the head of the Gambino criminal family, who was on trial at the time, and one day he hopped into a taxi only to find it contained two members of the mafia. One of them shot Sliwa six times in the abdomen; Sliwa survived after jumping over the shooter and jumping through the passenger window.
Sliwa still has fragments of spheres in his body and associated health problems.
“They patched me up and the surgeon said, ‘In 20 years, you’ll have problems,'” says Sliwa. “And then I really pushed it. I took part in competitive dinners, finished third in eating hot dogs at Nathan’s in Coney Island. I was the world champion in cucumber eating. I’ve crossed the line.
“[Roughly] 20 years later I felt this pain in my left side. In the end I got ileitis, colitis and full-blown Crohn’s disease. “
Mateo may have been Trumpier’s candidate in the Republican primary, but Sliwa won the support of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former lawyer and two-time New York City mayor who recently had his bar licenses suspended in New York and Washington.
Sliwa has known Giuliani for a long time through his guardian angel work. He praised Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” crime policies in New York in the 1990s and says he would introduce “broken window” police – a tactic to punish minor crimes that resulted in disproportionate numbers of Black and Latin American men Relatively minor offenses were arrested. Sliwa also shares Giuliani’s talent for exaggeration.
“I am now dealing with neighborhoods that have lawlessness and disorder that I have never seen before because it is learned behavior. You know, it’s like people realize that you can get away with it, there are no ramifications for your actions, ”he says.
In a troubling discussion about how to flatten a rising crime wave in New York, Sliwa cites issues such as young people’s “blowing up boomboxes” as examples of unacceptable behavior.
“Everyone just has the feeling that they can do what they want, when they want, how they want. And there are no consequences for their actions and you can see that in all neighborhoods, ”he says.
“Changing behavior will help teach young men and some young women, in particular, that they must respect other people’s rights by not getting out of the house.”
Part of Sliva’s belief that he can overcome adversity and defeat Adams in November is his theory that Adams has already been “anointed” as the next mayor.
Sliwa thinks that means a lower turnout. He also believes some Democrats will be expelled from Adams after a grueling Democratic primary.
But Adams, who is primarily an advocate of the police, is probably the toughest of the Democratic candidates Sliwa could have faced. And Sliva’s promise to restore law enforcement to 1990s standards that is widely loathed today is anathema to most Democrats.
Younger voters in particular seem likely to stand before a candidate whose promises of “behavior change” come from another era.
That will be disappointing for Sliwa, who thinks he has some hip millennials. He has a growing presence on TikTok and is a passionate, if unlikely, electronic dance music enthusiast. His main push for New York Post-Covid recovery is to bring back the city’s bars, restaurants and nightlife, even if his ideas about doing this go back to the police: “You need to have safe streets, safe subways.”
“Because let’s be honest, people will move around like that. And especially women, women are afraid of the perverts in the subways, the violence, the emotionally disturbed, the homeless, sometimes it’s just terrifying, ”says Sliwa.
“But if women don’t go out and enjoy themselves, there’s a very good chance that much of the nightlife just can’t recover. Women displace men. In many cases, women today have more income than men. “
As expected from a talk radio host, Sliwa can speak effortlessly and for a long time. He’s undeniably charismatic, with a practiced idiom.
“I go to neighborhoods where the only Republican you’ve ever seen is Abraham Lincoln with a $ 5 bill,” he says more than once while describing his campaign strategy of essentially just showing up somewhere and people to talk to him.
Sliwa in front of his mayor’s sign. Photo: Ali Smith / The Guardian
It’s a strategy that’s partly borne out of necessity – he raised a fraction of Adams’ total capital, and the Democrat has benefited from millions of dollars spent on his benefit by secret Super-Pac groups – as well as Given Slwa’s fame in town, it kind of makes sense.
On the streets near his apartment, Sliwa, who wears his distinctive red beret, is stopped every few steps by people who want to greet him or speak to him. 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,” says a man to Sliwa. “I hope you will do it.” A woman says she would choose him. Another man, Danny, stands in front of Sliva’s local bodega and waves him away. Danny wants to adopt one of his cats.
He suggested to Sliwa that this must be a grueling way of campaigning and living, he says he is used to it. To relax, he turns to his EDM music, which he first encountered while building a chapter for the Guardian Angels in London.
“I can’t wait to hear what’s coming from Europe because Europe is where everything is generated,” he says, adding: “I used to be quite a dancer.”
Sliwa is still dancing, but these days his foot tapping takes place mainly in his apartment.
“My wife is going to look at me and say, ‘Oh my god, you’re 67 Curtis’. I say, ‘Yes, but it’s inside of me.’
“Some people take ecstasy, others take drugs, but for me electronic dance music is a natural mood lifter.”
If Sliwa can brave the odds, fundraising void, and statistics showing New York is a largely democratic city by winning the mayoral election, he probably won’t need electronic dance music to lift his spirits.