Curtis Sliwa and Fernando Mateo are vying to be the GOP alternative to whoever emerges victorious from the crowded Democratic primary.
Republican mayoral nominees have lost the last two elections by landslides, and New York City has become only bluer since: From 2017 to 2021, the Democratic registration advantage swelled by about 9 percent. This year’s top-polling Republican candidate for mayor, Curtis Sliwa, has about $10,000 in his campaign account while best-funded Democrat Eric Adams boats more than $7.8 million. And while Republicans did win five straight mayoral contests from 1993 through 2009, most of those victories required the massive spending only a billionaire could manage.
However, past performance is no guarantee of future results—especially in a year like 2021.
An outsider candidate leads a crowded Democratic primary field. There’s a yawning four-and-a-half-month gap between the primary and the general election. The Democratic family looks likely to rend itself in two this summer over the impeachment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The city’s economy is still reeling from a pandemic that, for the moment, still makes most traditional campaigning impossible. And, most important, murders and shootings are substantially higher for a second year in a row.
It’s been at moments where uncertainties over public safety and the economy dominated—after a recession and amid falling but still high crime in 1993, and after the terrorist attack in 2001—that Republicans have broken through in New York. It’s still extremely unlikely a Republican will win in 2021, but it’s not impossible.
In conversations with the Max & Murphy podcast this week, two Republican mayoral candidates each focused on one of those issues.
Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels and a radio host, said public safety is the issue that brought him into the race.
“In many, many ways, we’re going back towards the late 70s, 80s and early 90s when we were ‘fear city,’” he said. “So I really fear that we’re not taking the measures necessary to stem the incredible rise of violent crime and the incredible unsafety—lack of safety—that exists in a lot of the subways and a lot of the streets on a daily and nightly basis.”
The answer, Sliwa says, is to “re-fund” the police by restoring the budget cuts imposed on the police department last year and hire more cops, funded by imposing property taxes on Madison Square Garden, Columbia University and other major institutions that are currently exempt.
Sliwa, who is also pursuing the Independence Party ballot line and hopes to create another Animal Welfare Party for the general election, says he blames rising crime all on Mayor Bill de Blasio: “He has neutered the police department, rendering them now to be reactive, not proactive.”
From Bloomberg’s last year in office, 2013, through 2019, the number of arrests in the city fell 41 percent—although busts for violent felonies dropped by a far more modest 3 percent. Over the same period, the number of index crimes dropped by 12.5 percent, and the number of reported index crimes slid by 8.7 percent.
Crime is down 13 percent overall so far this year, although murders (up 13 percent) and shootings (up 56 percent) are higher than in 2020, which itself was one of the most violent years in recent city history. The Mayor’s Management Report indicates there were 2,500 fewer uniformed officers on the NYPD payroll during the first four months of fiscal year 2021 (July-October 2020) than over the same period of 2019, and that the department’s FY2021 budget is about $700 million less than the previous year.
Rival Republican candidate Fernando Mateo, a longtime advocate for the city’s taxi drivers and bodegas, linked the crime issue to the city’s economic woes.
“The last 30 years I have spent in Democratic communities because Democratic governments have not done the job. As an urban Republican I stepped in and I solved many of the problems that Democratic governments have,” he said. “That’s why I’m running for mayor. I’m running for mayor because right now our city has no hope. Everything the Democrats do is wrong. You look at our city now, you look at how vacant it is, at how depressing it is to walk new York City streets and how dangerous it is and that’s why I am running for mayor. I want to bring our businesses back.”
“Public safety is my first agenda – supporting the men and women in blue,” Mateo said. “After that it’s the economy, small businesses.”
Hear the conversations below.