The GOP, REBNY and ABC
Every major city in America is ‘run’ by one business/corporate group or another. Many of the smaller ones are run the same way.
In Philadelphia it’s the bankers. In Chicago and Boston, it’s the financial industry…banks, mortgage companies, hedge fund operators etc.
In New York City it is the real estate industry or rather those elite real estate developers forming the Real Estate Board of New York or REBNY.
REBNY not the big banks, or Wall Street, or the media. REBNY makes the decisions about where and what to build, where the political support goes and when they can, who becomes Mayor. Their decisions and choices don’t always work. Nobody bats 1,000. They certainly didn’t want Bill DeBlasio to be Mayor three and a half years ago.
DeBlasio had been a fairly active councilman, an almost invisible Public Advocate for twelve years but never a real voice that anybody had been listening to with any interest. He was big, tall and placid and seemed benign with little or no leadership tics anyone noticed. He started the race for the Democratic nomination dead last among the eventual six candidates and most agree as his opponents eliminated themselves one by one by what they said or did, that he was the last man standing and so became the Democratic candidate.
The New York City Republican Party, with its five county chairmen, and its active and vocal State Chairman Edward Cox, son-in-law of Richard Nixon, and head of a major NYC law firm, had no such conundrum. Until then it was understood in a quiet under-the-radar way, that a self-made billionaire businessman, John Catsimatidis, would become the Republican candidate for Mayor in 2013. Cats as he is often called, was the son of an immigrant from Greece who worked as a busboy in a New York restaurant chain because he never learned enough English to work as a waiter. His son, growing up in Harlem, went to Brooklyn Tech HS and then to New York University to study business. Before graduating he took over a small grocery store in Manhattan owned by his uncle and his business career was launched.
He has become the 32nd richest man in America adding real estate development and energy to his business resume along with the supermarket business.
Four years earlier he was prepared to make the race for Mayor until approached by Bloomberg who had figured out how to ignore and avoid public votes for two-term limits and wanted a third term. He asked Cats to step aside and he did.
Now in 2013 Cats was ready to run for Mayor. But in what we now believe is a formal, silent powerplay…it was to be REBNY vs ABC…Anybody But Cats. And the anybody became Joseph Lhota, formerly Deputy Mayor for Rudy Giuliani, and head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Lhota, a serious, experienced, well-equipped bureaucrat who knew city government and city politics was championed by Ken Langone, a real estate developer, whose money bought him a close relationship with New York University School of Medicine…which now shares its name with his.
Lhota’s very public jobs set him up with a strong name recognition. Unless you knew that Catsimatidis owned the Gristedes Super Market chain, you never heard of him; his name recognition was at 2%.
Prior to the campaign both men met with the Liberal Party of New York seeking its nomination to run and win as a fusion candidate – Republican-Liberal – as Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsay and Rudy Giuliani had done. It has become a rule of New York City politics that no Republican can become Mayor of New York without Liberal Party support. The overwhelming number of Democratic voters in New York makes it impossible for any Republican to win unless Democratic voters use the Liberal Party line to vote for the Republican candidate.
Lhota’s meetings with Liberal Party leadership during the opening days of the campaign were cordial but no more. Lhota did not seem inclined to develop a strong relationship with the Party such as the one his former boss Rudy Giuliani had. There appeared to be a feeling that he thought LP support for Giuliani would automatically become LP support for him. Catsimatidis knew several of the party leadership personally but had no other contact with the party.
In our view Lhota’s distant attitude towards the Liberal Party relationship mirrored his campaign style. He knew things but never seemed committed to getting that job; almost as if he didn’t really want to be Mayor. He expressed displeasure when the Party chose the inexperienced Catsimatidis but even that seemed more smoke than fire.
The Liberal Party found Cats to be smart, tough, warm with great concern for people, for issues that mattered like schools and transportation, for making government more responsive to people, for using common sense when all else seemed muddy.
He promised to run on the Liberal Party alone if he lost the primary.
Approximately 50-60,000 people vote in a Republican primary.
We understood that the campaign was focused on reaching that “handful” of primary voters not on reaching the public as a whole. Lhota seemed so removed from it all…he barely smiled. Cats tried to deliver messages but was new to this kind of ‘selling’ and it showed. He was never going to spend the money Bloomberg spent because he thought spending those amounts on a political campaign was outrageous…even if the money was available.
On Primary Day, Catsimatidis had made enormous strides coming from a name recognition of 2% to receiving a little over 40% of the Republican vote…clearly not enough to win.
Disappointed and uncertain about what his presence to in the General Election would mean, Cats decided not to run on the Liberal Party line as an independent.
In the general election, Lhota talking to Republican voters alone never made up any ground with Democrats because he had little to say and he’d not received Liberal Party support. He ran an underfunded campaign that was tepid at best. He never stood for anything; never made a case for himself or any ideas.
The public was tired of this exhausting Mayoral race by the time Election Day rolled around. Only 17% of registered voters in NYC even bothered to vote in the election and DeBlasio became Mayor. He likened it later to a mandate for his programs. Nobody explained to him that when four out of five voters in the entire city stay home, that is no mandate for anything or anyone.
Despite a complete inability to make anything happen despite his endless talk and an imperial attitude that he is America’s leading progressive voice, the political wisdom is that Bill DeBlasio today would lose in a primary to one of several Democrats if he were challenged by any one of them.
Further, there is an awareness of serious, major issues which exist within DeBlasio’s base which weaken him even further.
While it is not difficult to understand why certain Democrats fear challenging a sitting Democrat Mayor, it is a little more difficult understanding why the Republican candidates today are: a minor player in the real estate business who sold his business and had some cash which he has already spent, a former NYC Police Detective with a mouth and attitude right out of the Donald Trump playbook and a former professional football player who is an apprentice clergyman anxious to build his church through name recognition.
Clearly those who run the city – REBNY – are not unhappy with the present Mayor’s record because he is letting the real estate industry do whatever they want to do, whenever and wherever they want to do it.
While it is understandable that Mike Bloomberg played ball with his buddies, nobody would consider Progressive Bill one of them and yet, real estate interests have had full reign to build what and where they wanted.
And that’s because DeBlasio is desperate not to be a one term Mayor like his former mentor David Dinkins. Being reelected is all that matters to him.
And so that seems settled. No Democrat has come forward to challenge him.
And the Republicans? Despite years of support from Catsimatidis and an understanding that the last time was his time, you can honestly make a case for Joe Lhota as its candidate four years ago. He had standing, experience and clear abilities.
But now? Paul Massey, a real estate developer of no reputation who just sold his business? No background, no involvement, no relationships and clearly no understanding of anything much regarding government and NYC.
Bo Dietl a character on par with the guy who says Rents are too damned high? But with a nasty mouth.
And the ex-football player?
Five county chairmen in a whirl. A missing State Chairman.
We think ABC – Anybody But Cats.
And that seems to be the way it really is. Anybody but a man who cannot be controlled by forces used to controlling. Anyone but a man who is a major manager with enormous experience in the art of people.
In fact, with the five county leaders going this way and that way and the State Chairman missing in action, we suggest that Anybody But Cats exists so that REBNY can continue to control DeBlasio.
What could be better for them?