Billionaire Republican businessman John Catsimatidis is the Liberal Party's new pick for mayor, the party announced Tuesday.
The endorsement gives Catsimatidis the possibility of a spot on the November ballot regardless of how his quest for the GOP nomination goes, plus the potential of claiming the mantle of successful Republican-Liberal New York City mayoral candidates going back to Fiorello LaGuardia.
While Catsimatidis has a fortune estimated at $3 billion, the Liberal Party views him as an "uncommon common man" who understands New Yorkers' concerns and aspirations, Chairman Jack Olchin said. After immigrating from Greece as an infant, Catsimatidis got his start with the Gristedes grocery chain and then got into oil, real estate and other areas.
The party had endorsed publisher Tom Allon before he dropped out of the mayor's race in March. Members liked Catsimatidis' business background, experience dealing with unions and interest in focusing more on teaching than testing in public schools, executive director Martin Hassner said.
New York's Liberal Party has a history of endorsing both Democrats and Republicans, including former Mayors Rudy Giuliani and John Lindsay. Its influence has waned in recent years: The party lost its automatic access to a ballot line in 2002 after falling short of the number of votes needed to keep a spot.
Now, the party must gather several thousand petition signatures to get a ballot line in the election that will choose a successor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
New York election officials don't keep figures on the Liberal Party's enrollment, and Hassner couldn't immediately provide a count.
Catsimatidis, whose donations to local Republican parties that he's courting have attracted scrutiny, hasn't given to the Liberal Party and has no immediate plans to do so beyond helping with the petition drive, his campaign and Hassner said. (As for the GOP contributions, Catsimatidis has noted that they're legal and said he doesn't see them as unethical.)
With a deep pocketbook and rollicking personality — "I'm not a Mike Bloomberg billionaire. I'm not wearing a $5,000 suit," he quipped when announcing his campaign in January — the Democrat-turned-Republican Catsimatidis considered running for mayor in 2009 but ultimately didn't.
His Republican rivals this year include former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota and homelessness-services nonprofit head George McDonald. Also seeking the GOP line is Democrat-turned-unaffiliated former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., who is also running as the Independence Party candidate.
Democratic contenders include former City Councilman Sal Albanese; Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; Comptroller John Liu; City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; the Rev. Erick Salgado, a pastor; and former Comptroller Bill Thompson. Democratic former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner also says he's considering a mayoral run.