Curtis Sliwa: Who is the Republican candidate in NYC mayoral election 2021?

The red-beret-wearing Republican candidate for New York’s next mayor is running on public safety, animal welfare, and relentless self-promotion

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 02 November 2021 14:01 GMT
New York City Mayor Announces Mandatory Vaccines for All City Workers

The next mayor of the nation’s largest city has his work cut out for him, in lifting millions of residents out of a public health emergency and tackling compounded crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrat Eric Adams – the Brooklyn borough president, former state legislator and retired New York City Police Department captain – is favoured to win in the largely Democratic city. He will be New York City’s second-ever Black mayor, if elected.

Republican Curtis Sliwa – a radio personality and founder of the controversial Guardian Angels volunteer subway patrol – faces difficult odds of winning in a city where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans nearly eight to one.

Mr Sliwa has continued an enthusiastic bid against his well-financed Democratic rival, whom Mr Sliwa has criticised as out of touch with working-class residents. Mr Adams has cast his opponent’s campaign as fundamentally unserious, and has promoted a campaign focused around issues of gun violence and economic development.

The candidates propose starkly different platforms on many issues, from vaccine mandates to the future of Rikers Island and outdoor dining, but they’ve praised one another for their respect towards animals: Mr Adams is vegan, and Mr Silwa is a longtime animal welfare advocate.

Early voting is now underway and Election Day is on 2 November. Several other long-shot mayoral candidates join the ballot, which also includes elections for city council, public advocate, district attorney and other ballot measures.

Who is Curtis Sliwa?

Mr Sliwa’s mayoral campaign follows a parade of tabloid press, offensive remarks, a mob hit, and his more than 40-year-old mission to combat crime on the city’s streets and subways.

His ascent is fuelled by relentless self-promotion and the international spread of his Guardian Angels, a volunteer street and subway patrol group in matching bomber jackets, tracksuits and berets – praised by its anti-crime proponents and criticised over allegations of being made up of reactionaries and vigilantes targeting young Black and brown New Yorkers.

Mr Sliwa’s campaign – largely run from the 320-square-foot Manhattan apartment he shares with his wife and their 16 rescue cats – has held daily events, hoping to bring more eyes to his agenda.

Mr Sliwa grew up in the southeastern Brooklyn enclave of Canarsie, where he worked as a paperboy and a “junk man” recycling neighbourhood trash as an early advocate for recycling.

After moving to the Bronx in the late 1970s, where he managed a McDonald’s in the Fordham Heights neighbourhood, he initiated a graffiti clean-up crew, a predecessor to his Magnificent 13 Subway Safety Patrol, later named the Guardian Angels.

After surviving five gunshots in an apparent execution attempt by a powerful organised crime family in 1992, Mr Sliwa admitted to lying about six incidents – including setting up the fake rescue of a mugging victim and stories about fighting off would-be rapists and being abducted by an off-duty transit police officer – to boost the Angels’ reputation.

Mr Sliwa became a talk-radio fixture over the following years, cementing his reputation as a local character. More recently, he was criticised for wearing a sombrero and imitating Latino immigrants and making sexist remarks about a member of the city council. He apologised for both incidents in June.

He mounted a bid for mayor as a Republican, seeing few other options to enter the race. He does not support Donald Trump, and he has rejected the baseless voter fraud narrative occupying the GOP, though he received Rudy Giuliani’s endorsement. Mr Sliwa sees himself as a “populist.”

Mr Sliwa’s campaign has sought to lure animal lovers with one of the largest animal welfare platforms in the country, including establishing no-kill shelter policies.

His pitch to flatten crime in the city’s young, largely Black and brown neighbourhoods is in “behaviour modification” in “dysfunctional” homes and neighbourhoods, he told The Independent earlier this year. He also has vowed to hire more NYPD officers and “refund” the agency after $1bn was shifted from its $6bn budget.

He opposes the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex, currently scheduled for closure by 2026 under a city plan.

Mr Sliwa also has proposed a pilot for a universal basic income programme; the spending would be closely monitored by the city to determine whether beneficiaries “lack self control” to spend it wisely to “maintain themselves,” he told The Independent earlier this year.

With roughly 48,000 people experiencing homelessness on a given night in New York, including nearly 15,000 children, Mr Sliwa wants to end what he calls the “warehousing” of people experiencing homelessness by addressing addictions and mental health issues and building new permanent supportive housing. He also has proposed reopening Camp LaGuardia, a 1,000-bed, 258-acre compound built out of a former women’s prison.

Mr Sliwa, who is vaccinated against Covid-19, opposes requirements for city workers and public school students to be inoculated.

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