Curtis Sliwa, the “Guardian Angel” who dreams of being the mayor of New York

The eye is sharp, the gaze firmly planted in the screen of the telephone which has been filming it for a few minutes. The tone is determined. “I promise you that on the first day I take office, I will not go on a trip to Florida, like my opponent, but rather stay here, in every constituency in the city, to shake hands with voters and to thank. “

To his followers he summoned to the TikTok network that morning, Curtis Sliwa, the Republican candidate for mayor of New York, once again had an arrow to shoot at his Democratic opponent. A few days earlier, Eric Adams – that’s his name – had announced his intention to travel to Florida, once elected, to convince the wealthy New Yorkers who had been exiled there in recent years to return to live in The city. A promise seized on the fly by Curtis Sliwa to qualify the leader in the race as a friend of the rich and powerful, as he likes to do publicly since the start of the campaign.

His goal is to stand out, but above all to attract attention in a mayoral race that very few New Yorkers, rich and poor alike, seem to care, as the result of next November gives the impression of being already set in stone.

“Election activity is low, and interest in the race is very limited,” admits political scientist Michael Krasner, a specialist in New York politics at Queens College at the City University of New York, when told about the streets. of a city where the course of a mayoral race is far from being obvious. “This is undoubtedly because the inevitability of a victory for Eric Adams is strong. “

In this diverse and liberal city-world which has seven Democratic voters for each Republican voter, the circumstances are indeed favorable to this natural successor to Bill de Blasio and ex-police officer who practiced in the megalopolis for 22 years. His coffers are also 10 times more full than those of Curtis Sliwa, confined to his margin from where, despite everything, he remains convinced of being able to create a surprise.

“It is the time for change”, drops the Republican, met by The duty in his campaign office located on 7e Avenue in Midtown. “We just got rid of the worst governor in the state [Andrew Cuomo, tombé en août dernier des suites d’accusations de harcèlement sexuel], we have lived through two terms as one of the city’s worst mayors, and New York now seems poised to enter a new era. “

A legend with a moral tone

At 67, Curtis Sliwa is far from being an unknown in the city where he founded in 1979 the Guardian Angels, this group of vigilante citizens recognizable by their red berets, and who, in a megalopolis then scarred by violence and petty crime, had established themselves as security advocates for subway-work-sleep New Yorkers.

His first surprise, he created it last June by winning the Republican primary against the businessman and defender of taxi drivers Fernando Mateo, who had nevertheless invested two million dollars in a campaign aimed above all to block the road to Sliwa, accused of not being complacent enough towards Donald Trump.

“I am one of the few opponents of Trump to have won a Republican primary,” he boasts, smirking. “But despite everything, I am paying the price for his failed exit from the White House, his lies about electoral fraud, his attacks on democracy. The Republican label is heavy to wear. The media reject me, even though I am an independent, with a serious agenda. “

Due to lack of visibility, Curtis Sliwa does what he has always done: travel the city to meet citizens to sell them the strengthening of security in the streets, in a city where crime has increased by 22% since May 2020 – and where shootings have jumped by more than 70% in 12 months, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD).

He says he also wants to help the most disadvantaged and, above all, to break with an urban development dictated by cronyism and the lobbying of large fortunes disconnected from the reality of ordinary citizens, he sums up. In SoHo and Chinatown, in the name of social diversity, a wind of protest is blowing in the face of entrepreneurs who, like elsewhere in the city, seek to increase the price of stone by pushing the less fortunate away from Manhattan.

Behind the scenes, Eric Maher, one of Mr. Sliwa’s advisers, sums up his platform by saying that “Curtis is not in the pay of anyone”. “Once elected, he will owe nothing to interested contributors. “

An assumed populist

“To become mayor, you have to know the city well, and the city has to know you,” says Milton Oliver, at Guardian Angels headquarters in Brooklyn, “and that’s what defines Curtis. He is there for those who have asked him for years to become mayor. Not for his personal interests. “

And this, while fully assuming its populist character, at a time when the attribute nevertheless refers to many authoritarian drifts.

“Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, they’re nationalists,” said the Republican candidate, “and I’m certainly not following in their footsteps. My model, it is rather the governor of Louisiana Huey Long ”, a democratic populist who denounced during the Great Depression the lack of reach of the New Deal for American workers. He adds: “I have in common with him the fact that I was shot. Him, it was once, and he died of it. Me ? Five times, and I survived. “

Survivor. Fighter. Determined. Curtis Sliwa, however, does not seem to intimidate Eric Adams’ team who, without claiming victory too quickly, sees the Republican as a “temporary anomaly” in the political landscape of the city. “We have been used to Republican candidates a little stronger and a little more fortunate than him,” said Londel Davis, member of the Democrat Party and political organizer of Adams in the Harlem district, referring to Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, who were the rare republicans to occupy the seat of chief magistrate of the city. “Of course, we will hear more and more from Sliwa as the polls approach. But Eric Adams leaves with a head start. “

The lack of suspense probably explains why no poll has been carried out to date on voting intentions in the city of 19 million inhabitants. With more than a month before the elections, the Republican is staying the course, increasing the number of appearances in the city, regardless of the political color of the neighborhoods he visits. “I go to places where the only Republicans they have seen so far is Abraham Lincoln on the $ 5 bills,” he quipped.

He is also continuing his digital offensive supported by a young and active campaign team on social networks which has taken a liking to this atypical candidate. “He is not like the others”, summarizes Anna Zell, the young twenties, who embarked in this campaign seduced by the program of the candidate. “He doesn’t just talk about breaking up and change. He embodies it. “

Digital universes where he finds attentive ears because of a character trait that is particularly popular there: Curtis Sliwa likes to cultivate his love of cats in public. He cohabits with 16 of them in the small studio on the Upper West Side, overlooking Central Park, which he shares with his wife, Nancy.

In mid-September, he also launched an advertising campaign with the help of one of them, Tuna, to promote his commitment to end the euthanasia of stray animals caught in the city. “It exists in Austin, Texas, why not here? He said, frankly admitting that cats are a subject beyond political stripes and from which he could benefit.

From his work as a night manager at McDonald’s in Fordham Road, in the Bronx, where he had the idea of ​​founding the Guardian Angels, to the radio waves that amplified his notoriety in the city from the 1990s Curtis Sliwa has changed his life five or six times. For the seventh, it is now as mayor that he hopes to see himself. Even if New York seems to be looking elsewhere.

This report was partly funded with support from the Transat International Journalism Fund –The duty.

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