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Meet Curtis Sliwa—a Big Apple Republican in a Red Beret

If you want to run a fool’s errand, you could try to categorize

Curtis Sliwa’s

politics. Mr. Sliwa, 67, is the Republican candidate for mayor of New York. On Nov. 2, he will face Democrat

Eric Adams,

a favorite so overwhelming that many New Yorkers have already anointed him mayor. “I can’t tell you how many people say to me, ‘Curtis, I thought you lost,’ ” Mr. Sliwa says. “I tell them, ‘There hasn’t been a general election yet!’ ”

Four decades after he founded the Guardian Angels, a volunteer crime-prevention organization that now has chapters in 130 cities in 13 countries, Mr. Sliwa decided to run for office in response to the “shooting and the looting” in New York that accompanied protests against the police in the summer of 2020.

He shakes his head—topped by the red beret that has been his sartorial statement since 1979—and describes what he sees in the city today: Guns. Burglaries. Shoplifting. Emotionally disturbed persons having psychotic episodes on the streets and “defecating in the subway.” Homeless people getting into arguments with the locals—“and this, mind you, in the Upper West Side, the haven of liberal progressivism.”

His Guardian Angels, he says, now patrol “even in Chinatown.” They were never needed in Chinatown before, “but with all the attacks on Asians, we patrol there, and also in Flushing, Queens.”

Born in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie to a Polish father and Italian mother, Mr. Sliwa speaks with the engaging and demotic fluency of a radio talk-show host—his “other job” for 30 years. He left his perch at WABC right after announcing his candidacy. This made sense, even allowing for the loss of income. Under the Federal Communications Commission’s equal-time rules, “if I were on for four hours now,” he says, “I’d have to give four hours to Eric Adams.” So he’s out of a job, “while Adams continues to get paid as Brooklyn borough president. Even though—let’s face it—he’s not doing much in the borough of Brooklyn.”

Mr. Sliwa is no orthodox Republican. He supported the plan for a universal basic income put forward by

Andrew Yang,

the former presidential candidate who ran against Mr. Adams in the Democratic primary, even though many Republicans say that UBI is “radical, socialist, communist.” He would impose a new tax on major New York institutions and use the money to pay for additional officers. “What I want to do,” he says, “is have a dedicated tax against Madison Square Garden, Columbia University, NYU. It’s outrageous that they pay no property tax. They’re not religious organizations!”

His goal is to restore the New York City Police Department to its size under Mayor

Rudolph Giuliani

—38,000 officers. The number, he says, is currently “below 35,000, and a lot of young people who could become police officers just don’t want to sign up as they have in the past.” Why not? “They get disparaged in the streets. There’s no respect.”

He describes himself as “a populist” and disparages Mr. Adams as “Elite Eric.” In an hour-long conversation at his modest campaign headquarters near Penn Station, Mr. Sliwa pillories his opponent repeatedly for being “wined, dined, and pocket-lined” by rich benefactors, and portrays Mr. Adams—a former NYPD cop—as being in thrall to “the realtors, the developers, and the hedge funders.” Mr. Adams, he says, “is no longer a man of the peeps.” Creasing up with derision, Mr. Sliwa berates Mr. Adams for taking a vacation in Monaco. He utters the word repeatedly, as if it were a punch line. “Monaco—Monaco!” Now that Mr. Adams has “tasted the life of the uberrich, is he still going to be there for the people in public housing?”

Mr. Sliwa concedes, nonetheless, that Mr. Adams would make a better mayor than the incumbent. “I don’t see how you could be worse than

Bill de Blasio,

the worst mayor of my lifetime. He has single-handedly taken a

Miley Cyrus

wrecking ball to the city and destroyed it.”

When I ask how he rates his chances of winning a mayoral election in a city whose voters are Democrats by a ratio of 7 to 1, Mr. Sliwa replies that I’m understating the difficulty: “I disagree that it’s 7 to 1. I think it’s 8 to 1, even more.” A lot of the people “who took part in the exodus after Covid were registered Republicans.”

Party loyalty is so strong that Mr. Sliwa doubts his own parents would have cast ballots for him. “They didn’t vote for Reagan, as Democrats,” he says. “They didn’t vote for Giuliani. If they were both alive today, and if I was only on the Republican line, they’d vote for Eric Adams.”

But he takes heart that he’s also listed as an independent on the ballot. That, he believes, will persuade many New Yorkers to vote for him and would have been sufficient to win over mom and dad: “Lucky I got that independent side. Because they would’ve voted for me.”

Mr. Varadarajan, a Journal contributor, is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at New York University’s Classical Liberal Institute.

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