2013-01-30 / Political Page

Catsimatidis Seeking GOP Nomination For Mayor


Catsimatidis already has the backing of Manhattan Republican Chairman Dan Isaacs, and sources in the Queens GOP say that this county’s party leader, Philip Ragusa, later this week will chair a meeting of party officials who will vote to make Catsimatidis the borough’s endorsed candidate. Catsimatidis already has the backing of Manhattan Republican Chairman Dan Isaacs, and sources in the Queens GOP say that this county’s party leader, Philip Ragusa, later this week will chair a meeting of party officials who will vote to make Catsimatidis the borough’s endorsed candidate. After surveying the Republican field for this year’s mayoral race, billionaire grocer John Catsimatidis formally announced his candidacy yesterday on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan.

Catsimatidis, 64, who was brought here at the age of six months from Greece, dropped out of New York University in the late 1960s to open his first grocery store at 99th Street and Broadway and subsequently rose to become the billionaire owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain.

Now he’ll have to prove that he can transfer that same talent in the world of politics. His first hurdle will be winning the Republican primary (and nomination). It doesn’t appear to be a walkover because his principal rival will be former Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman Joseph Lhota, who, according to the general opinion conveyed by the city’s newspapers and other media, already has the GOP nomination locked up.

However, Catsimatidis already has the backing of Manhattan Republican Chairman Dan Isaacs, and sources in the Queens GOP say that this county’s party leader, Philip Ragusa, later this week will chair a meeting of party officials who will vote to make Catsimatidis the borough’s endorsed candidate.

We were not provided with a copy of Catsimatidis’ remarks in announcing his candidacy, but Isaacs did send along his impressions of the announcement.

Isaacs stated, “From a practical manner, I believe that John has the unique ability to attract independents and cross-over Democrats (John was once a Democrat himself, but no one is perfect) which is essential in a city where we are outnumbered by a margin of eight-to-one. John’s background and upbringing, coupled with his status as one of the city’s leading businessmen and philanthropists, makes him a New Yorker for all New Yorkers and the individual who I believe can and will be our next mayor. I therefore urge you to come and join us… when the next chapter in this city’s great history begins.”

Lhota may have something to say about that. One of Lhota’s major backers for the nomination when the first soundings were heard about his possible candidacy in December was former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, under whom Lhota served as a deputy mayor during Giuliani’s two terms as mayor, from 1994 to 2001. Giuliani is still held in high regard in the borough and many Queensites who worked in his administration are still active in the borough, so there’s little doubt that Lhota will have enough support there in the primary campaign.

In fact, over this past weekend, Lhota made his first appearance in the borough to personally introduce himself as a mayoral candidate. It occurred at a meeting of the Northeast Republican Club in Whitestone, but its membership is also spread out into Bayside and College Point and encompasses the 19th Council district, which is represented by Councilmember Dan Halloran.

Lhota attracted a goodly crowd of about 130 local Republican activists who were there to join Lhota as he installed about 20 new club officials for 2013. Afterwards, he gave a short talk to introduce himself and in so doing, stressed the important part Queens will play in the mayor’s race, as it did when Giuliani won two mayoral elections here.

Also sharing in the installation of officers was Halloran, whose home club is the Northeast Queens Republican Club. We reached out to him on Monday to try to find out which way he might be leaning in a Lhota-Catsimatidis race, but he never returned our call.

A spokesman for the club, responding to our question whether there was any indication who their club might endorse between Lhota and Catsimatidis, stated, “It’s too soon to tell, but our club usually endorses who the county leadership endorses. We’ll have to meet with all the candidates before making a choice.”

Another factor to be considered is whether the Republican faction led by John Haggerty of Forest Hills will get involved in this race. Haggerty was a major operative for Mayor Bloomberg in his campaigns, but Haggerty was found guilty of misusing Bloomberg funds in the 2009 campaign and is awaiting sentencing at the moment.

John Haggerty’s brother, Bart, who was also involved in the Haggerty political operations, although not the case for which John Haggerty was convicted, may emerge to lead his faction into the mayoral race. Bart Haggerty has in the past challenged the incumbent leader for the Queens County Republican leadership and we’ll be watching to see if he appears at the endorsement meeting next week.

Meanwhile, there have been other individuals interested in getting the Republican line in the mayoral race. Among them are former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and the Rev. A.G. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, who said he had been approached about running by Republican State Chairman Ed Cox.

Incidentally, Cox is an in-law to Catsimatidis, whose daughter is married to Cox’ son. Cox is surely expected to use his influence to get the nomination for Catsimatidis.

Catsimatidis made a move last week possibly designed to get himself some help for his campaign from Republicans at the national level. Last Sunday evening, he held a $1,000 to $5,000 fundraiser for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It was held at Catsimatidis’ posh Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park. McConnell, from Kentucky, also got an assist from Cox at the fundraising effort.

DEMOCRATS SEEKING B.P. SEAT BUSY: The rousing race to succeed Helen Marshall as Queens borough president had five Democratic hopefuls busy last week on several fronts. The participants who have announced they are seeking the party’s nomination are (in alphabetical order): State Senator Tony Avella; Councilmember Leroy Comrie; Barry Grodenchik; Melinda Katz; State Senator Jose Peralta; and Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

AVELLA: The Northeast Queens state Senator hasn’t been heard or seen campaigning much for the top borough office, especially at this time when the legislature in Albany is gearing up for the 2013 session. Much of the action up there is listening and trying to digest Governor Cuomo’s plans for the third year of his term.

COMRIE: The veteran Jamaica representative, who has been in the City Council for about two decades, was occupied with city council business, including the hearings at City Hall, looking into how effectively the city’s emergency response plan handled Hurricane Sandy.

GRODENCHIK: The former deputy borough president announced the key campaign appointment of Dominic Panakal as campaign manager. A lifelong Queens resident, Panakal comes to this important task after serving as chief of staff to Assemblymember Rory Lancman and as Lancman’s Deputy Campaign Manager in Lancman’s losing race to Congressmember Grace Meng (D–Flushing).

Grodenchik stated: “Dominic is a seasoned and smart political mind. I am excited to have him on my team. He has demonstrated through his savvy and hard work that he will be an outstanding asset to our campaign.”

Panakal said, “Barry is the right person for this moment. He has the experience, skills—and temperament—to bring people together and work toward achieving what is truly best for Queens.”

KATZ: Ms. Katz was also announcing her campaign team, topped by her media relations man, George Arzt, the former New York Post reporter at City Hall and one of the most knowledgeable operatives on the political scene. Katz also has brought aboard: Jennie Berger, fundraising; Doug Forand, general campaign consultant, and Tyquana Henderson, field consultant.

Katz reported a campaign treasury of $250,000 on hand, with $40,000 of that amount to be matched by the city Campaign Finance Board matching it at the six for one rate, giving the campaign an extra $240,000.

Katz’ previous experience includes stints as an assemblymember and councilmember, also Director of Community Boards under Queens Borough President Claire Shulman from 1999 to 2002. An attorney, she received her juris doctorate from St. John’s University Law School.

PERALTA: The state senator from Jackson Heights reported “a lot to like” about Cuomo’s budget plan, from rebuilding the state after Hurricane Sandy to the governor’s support for a state minimum wage. But Peralta’s main legislative goal is to see a Dream Act for thousands of immigrants.

VALLONE: On January 16, Vallone cochaired the hearings to evaluate the city’s emergency planning and management before and after Hurricane Sandy. Among the segments examined were problems with the 911 and 311 systems.

Vallone, chair of the Public Safety Committee, grilled city officials about the gas crisis and slow delivery of supplies. He stated after the hearings: “In 2010, the Public Safety Committee examined the city’s emergency storm strategy, and the administration did a great job of following their plan. Due to the actions of the city and our first responders, countless lives were saved. However, there were problems that needed to be fixed, such as getting supplies to vulnerable areas faster and preventing another gas crisis—so the same issues do not arise again next time.”

Future hearings will look at public utilities, the New York Housing Authority and rebuilding our infrastructure, among other issues.

On another topic, Vallone introduced a resolution calling on the state to pass the Public Assistance Integrity Act, which would prohibit the sale or purchase of alcohol, tobacco products or lottery tickets with public assistance benefits.

“People are expecting that their taxes are helping people in need to buy necessities— not Jack Daniels,” Vallone said.

CONSTANTINIDES ENDORSED: Costa Constantinides, the Democratic candidate to succeed Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. as the 22nd Council District representation covering Astoria and Long Island City, has been endorsed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Local 1180. The union, representing 8,000 workers, stated Constantinides “has been a dedicated community leader and outspoken advocate for issues consistent with the policies of CWA Local 1180”, according to Arthur Cheliotes, president of the local.

Thanking Cheliotes, Constantinides said having the union’s support “will make a large difference in this race”.

MALONEY HAILS 40TH ANNI OF ROE VS. WADE: On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade, which enshrined in law a woman’s right to choose, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) stated:

“Women spoke loud and clear in the last election—keep your laws out of our bedrooms and our doctors’ offices. It’s disappointing that 40 years after the highest court in our land handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, we are still fighting to preserve a woman’s right to choose and make sure abortion remains safe and legal. As an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive rights, I am continually shocked by Republican efforts to roll back abortion rights, limit women’s access to the full range of contraceptive options, and even restrict women’s access to basic healthcare needs.”

LAWMAKERS OPPOSE ‘COLOCATION’ IN HIGH SCHOOL: Two Queens lawmakers, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Councilmember Daniel Dromm, don’t think the city Department of Education (DOE) is making the right move, shifting students into two Queens high schools that already aren’t getting good marks from school officials.

The schools involved are Flushing H.S. in Flushing and Newtown H.S. in Elmhurst. At Newtown, DOE plans to reduce enrollment by about 350 students and open a new school for foreign-born students. But Dromm (D–Jackson Heights), an exteacher, opposes the move. He says Newtown’s rating has improved and colocation is not necessary there. He also charges the city “wants to make sure that Newtown fails”.

The plan for Flushing H.S. reportedly calls for reducing the student body by about 850 and installing a second school in the building. Reportedly, it would focus on foreign born students and offer Chinese bi-lingual programs. Stavisky (D–Whitestone) has said, in effect, the proposed co-location would be “destructive” for the original school.

SCHUMER BACKS BI-PARTISAN IMMIGRATION BILL: Monday’s The New York Times reported that a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators, including Senator Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.), have “agreed on a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul” of the U.S. immigration system. The single, comprehensive bill, would include a pathway to U.S. citizenship for 11 million immigrants, the story said.

Schumer and Senators John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), both Republicans, are included in the eight member bi-partisan group. Their plan was published before President Barack Obama released his plan yesterday.

Schumer was quoted as saying, “We on the Democratic side have said that we are flexible and we want to get a bill. But there’s a bottom line, and that’s a path to citizenship… We’ve made great, great progress with our Republican allies.”

McCain, a past supporter of immigration, stated Republicans were losing the Hispanic vote, “which we think should be ours”.

Meanwhile, Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) said in an op-ed piece in Monday’s New York Daily News, that he also supports legislation that would include a path to citizenship for immigrants. Crowley said citizenship for immigrants and other reforms would bring major benefits for the U.S. economy. The lawmaker has a past history of working to improve immigrant communities.

CROWLEY BRANDS GOP DEBT LIMIT BILL A ‘GIMMICK’: Following passage of a Republican bill that would only temporarily extend the nation’s debt limit, saying it would “jeopardize the economic certainty the American people, businesses and markets need”, Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) declared:

“This bill is a gimmick with the most serious of consequences: it puts at risk our economy and our future. Gone is the certainty American families need to save for retirement, pay their mortgage, or put their kids through college. Gone is the certainty American business owners need to hire more workers and grow their business. And, gone is the certainty the markets need to remain stable investments for workers to save for their future.”

Crowley, who serves as vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, added:

“The American people sent us to Congress to work, not to play games. Our focus should be on putting forward a clean debt ceiling that gives the American people, businesses and markets the certainty they need, while working toward a balanced, bipartisan budget that works for all Americans. Creating false fiscal cliffs just shouldn’t be on the agenda.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The GOP bill extended the nation’s statutory borrowing limit until May, and in so doing avoided another confrontation with President Obama. The measure also did not include the dollar-for-dollar spending cuts the Republicans had been insisting should be part of any debt limit bill.

MALONEY SUPPORTS WOMEN IN COMBAT IN MILITARY: Congressmember Carolyn Maloney praised Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last week for his decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat roles in this nation’s military forces.

Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) stated: “This latest ground-breaking move by the Obama administration shows that in this country—in this administration—equal truly means equal.

“Women will now have an equal opportunity to serve their country, an equal right to enter into their chosen field, and if they have the talent and ability, they will have an equal chance of moving into the top ranks of military command. To those who may criticize this move, I would point out that it comes 230 years after women served honorably in combat roles in the Revolutionary War.”

LIU RAPS DOE: City Comptroller John Liu blasted the Department of Education’s policies on school closures and co-location as “so deeply flawed that they need to be completely re-evaluated before they can continue”.

Speaking before the Alliance for Quality Education, Liu stated: “For the past year, I’ve called for a moratorium of school closures and co-locations, which seem to achieve little other than playing a shell game with schoolkids and teachers.”

CONSERVATIVES CITE ABUSES OF CAMPAIGN FINANCING: Addressing all 213 state legislators last week, the state’s Conservative Party reminded them of the abuses and high costs of public campaign financing and urged them to vote “no” on campaign financing “and let New York taxpayers be free from yet another unfunded mandate”.

The Conservatives said they believe that “full disclosure is the only viable campaign finance reform” and added, “Forcing taxpayers to fund campaigns they do not support is not a wise use of taxpayers’ dollars, especially when New York taxpayers are already paying some of the highest taxes in the nation.”

The Conservatives’ statement also criticized candidates’ spending of campaign funds, even lawmakers who lost, “continuing to dip into campaign accounts for meals, expenses and even $10,000 for a car”.

Noting that the state is still deeply in debt and may not be able to fulfill its obligations, “Governor Cuomo and (Assembly) Speaker Sheldon Silver seek additional burdens on taxpayers to fund their election, while both accept amounts that exceed what they call for.”

They declared, “Public funding of campaigns is a bad idea; it takes ordinary citizens’ money and gives it to candidates they may not support. Estimates predict public financing could cost $40 million a year.”

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