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Up Close With NYC's Mayoral Candidates: John Catsimatidis (R)

by Jeff Coltin
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John Catsimatidis

azipaybarah, Flickr

Listen this week at 7:40 a.m. and 5 p.m. for profiles of each of the leading candidates, and scroll down for more profiles.

Billionaire Businessman John Catsimatidis works hard to promote his decidedly non-billionaire upbringing on 135th St. in Harlem.  He owns and runs Gristedes Foods, the largest grocery store chain in Manhattan, and also own Red Apple Group, which has holdings in real estate, aviation, and oil refining

This is his first time running for office, but he says he used to be the highest-ranking layperson in the Greek Orthodox Church.  He’s been involved in politics for a long time as a donor, mainly to liberals like the Clintons. He says he wants to be known as “the Mayor La Guardia of the 21st century.”

 

Education
Catsimatidis lists education as one of his priorities--particularly lowering the dropout rate.  To do that, in part he proposes better teacher training and higher standards.  He’s even proposed offering teachers apartments, so they stay put in schools.  He says he believes in the public school system, but thinks “a little competition helps” in regards to charters schools.  In an August 9 WABC debate he showed admiration for the Catholic school system and its 97% graduation rate.  In all schools, he’s supported a “diverse” education with music, arts, and physical education.  Catsimatidis says he’d install a Deputy Chancellor for Arts and Music Education to ensure this gets done.  Part of the “diverse” education also includes the teaching of trades, which he says is a way to ensure “good middle-class jobs.”

 

Safety and Crime Prevention
Catsimatidis is making public safety a huge focus of his campaign with the oft-repeated refrain of “I will not give the streets back to the hoodlums” who ran it in the 70’s and 80’s.  Catsimatidis is a strong supporter of police commissioner Ray Kelly, who he credits with making NYC the safest big city in America.  He supports police surveillance and stop and frisk, and says he can fix people’s issues with the practice through technology.  He wants to give police more training plus metal detectors, so they can “stop and frisk” less invasively.  He says the police are also working on “a gadget that you can aim from further away and that will tell you if a person has a metal weapon on them,” which will curb the need for the controversial police practice.

 

Healthcare
Catsimatidis supports what Bloomberg has done for health regarding anti-smoking and anti-obesity measure, and supports more education in schools about nutrition, which he says will help kids live longer.  He also wants to create more basic healthcare jobs with a goal of bringing healthcare facilities to within 10 minutes of every city resident.

 

Economic Development
Catsimatidis has lots of ideas, the most radical being a new World’s Fair to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, which he says will create a ton of jobs.  He also wants to expand on New York’s tech sector, “Silicon Alley” and bring in more high-tech and bio-tech companies.  Catsimatidis wants to build more housing, particularly “transit-oriented housing” around subway stations.  He’ll make builders create affordable housing to entice city workers like police officers and teachers to live within the 5 boroughs.

 

Small Business
Catsimatidis says the city is making small businesses a target charging them a high price for services and infractions.  As a business-owner, he says “I’m the only candidate that feels their pain when they get thousands of dollars’ worth of parking tickets, they get thousands of dollars’ worth of water bills.”  Catsimatidis would create a small business affairs department, “like an ombudsman within the city [government] itself, defending small business people against any abuses of the other agencies in the city.”

 

Tax Reform
Firmly against raising taxes, Catsimatidis said he would freeze any taxes the mayor controls on January 1st--the day the Mayor takes office.  He believes controlling rising real estate taxes is the key to controlling rising rent.

 

Labor
Catsimatidis is an ardent supporter of Michael Bloomberg, but he’s criticized the Mayor for his handling of expired union contracts with city employees, saying Bloomberg should have met with the unions and at least given them some minimal pay increases.  I that conflict, Catsimatidis says he does not support giving retroactive pay to city employees.  He also apparently supports pension reform saying, “if a city employee works for 20 years, we can’t afford to pay them for 50   In an August 9 Republican mayoral candidate debate on WABC, Catsimatidis said he believes in unions, and in fact used to be a member of them.  He said his business background and history of dealing with unions puts him in a good position.  He believes he can negotiate himself since he’s been “dealing with unions of 44 years” and gained a reputation of “tough, but fair.”

 

Transportation
Catsimatidis’ boldest idea would be a monorail running alongside the Long Island Expressway in Queens.  He says underground transportation would be too expensive, and aboveground is the answer.  With a focus on building New York City’s infrastructure, he’s proposing light rail, increased ferry service, and improved bus service, including BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit.  As for drivers on the bridges and tunnels, in an August 9 Republican mayoral debate on WABC, he said he “would use [his] size 13 shoe to put my foot down and make sure the tolls don’t go up.”  Catsimatidis would also reduce the amount of bike lanes in the city.

 

Environment
Catsimatidis stood out in a mayoral forum on the environment by saying he was not sure if humans caused global warming. He believes no actions should be taken against global warming that would hurt business. The New York Times reports Catsimatidis says the city should focus on alternative energy sources as a way to create jobs.  He does not support building a waste disposal plant on the Upper East Side.

 

Post-Sandy Recovery and Rebuilding
Catsimatidis has said that he helped pass the Sandy Relief bills through Congress. Governor Cuomo and other New York politicians reportedly asked him to help convince 8 Republicans to vote for the bills.  He worked with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and got it done, reports New York True. Catsimatidis’ company is currently developing residential towers on Coney Island.  He has donated to Sandy-ravaged businesses like A Very Special Place, the Daily News reports.  

 

Hunger
Supermarket mogul Catsimatidis wants to bring more food to underserved areas by changing zoning and inducing landlords to rent space to food stores. Said that supermarkets should have lower rent and fees, and should be seen as “essential services to the neighborhood” speaking at a New School forum on the future of food.

 

Social Issues
Catsimatidis, a former registered Democrat, is running as “a Republican Liberal.”  At a New School forum he said this is because “I want to make sure we take care of our kids, and take care of our elderly.” He says when he’s mayor he want to be able to go to 135th St. in Harlem where he grew up and say “I made it, you can make it too.”  

 

Other Candidates:

Bill de Blasio (D)

Bill Thompson (D)

Christine Quinn (D)

John Liu (D)

Anthony Weiner (D)

Joe Lhota (R)

The rest of the field

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