“I am really thinking about it.”
That is what WABC radio host Curtis Sliwa — the founder of the city’s legendary civilian anti-crime group, the Guardian Angels — told me when I recently asked him about throwing his red beret into the crowded ring of likely competitors in next year’s special election to elect a new Public Advocate, after the current officeholder Letitia James leaves to become New York State Attorney General in January.
Sliwa, also the New York State Reform Party chairman, would be a real contender if he takes the leap. Democrats will put forth candidates that number in the double digits, almost certainly splitting their votes, and making it possible for a center-right coalition to successfully elect Sliwa in what will likely be a low-turnout, non-partisan election in the middle of February.
This is not the first time a Sliwa candidacy for Public Advocate has been floated. About a decade ago, the New York Post encouraged him to run, based on his view that the office should be “padlocked” to save taxpayer money. Indeed, Sliwa has described the office as “fake, phony, fraudulent, and fugazy,” and said, “it is just for political patronage.”
A candidate running for Public Advocate that supports shutting the office down would separate himself from all others in the press and among voters. In September, while testifying before the New York City Council Charter Revision Commission, Sliwa said the office is just a “launching pad to run for higher office at the taxpayers’ expense.” He also said he supports a public referendum to let voters decide if it should be eliminated, like Councilman Kalman Yeger (D–Bensonhurst), who this month introduced legislation in Council calling for such a referendum.
The only other local pol trying to build a center-right coalition that could thwart Democrats from totally dominating of our city and state governments is Councilman Eric Ulrich (R–Queens), who participated in a Public Advocate candidates forum sponsored by Citizens Union, AARP NY, and New York Law School earlier this month. But A Sliwa candidacy could torpedo Ulrich’s attempt to stay in elected office on the public’s dime.
Sliwa already boasts better name recognition than Ulrich in the five boroughs, and the term-limited councilman has committed several slights in the eyes of some GOP leaders that will hamper his ability to become that center-right candidate, who would need near universal support from Republicans to win the special election.
In 2013, for instance, Ulrich broke with his Republican Party to cast a critical vote that allowed his then Democratic Council colleague Melissa Mark-Viverito — a pol arguably even further to the left than Mayor DeBlasio — to become the body’s Council Speaker, the second-most powerful position in our city’s government. In exchange, he received a post on one of Council’s committees, and the financial stipend that came with it.
And last year, Ulrich shunned his party’s candidate for mayor, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, instead strongly supporting former cop Bo Dietl, who ultimately received less than one percent of the vote. That allegiance will not soon be forgotten by other Republicans who rallied around Malliotakis’s energetic and ideas-oriented campaign to unseat DeBlasio.
Following last week’s snowstorm that paralyzed much of the city, Ulrich — my former student at Saint Francis College — rubbed salt on the wound created by his betrayal of Malliotakis and the GOP when he publicly criticized some of the assemblywoman’s supporters after they took to Twitter to blast DeBlasio for his disastrous handling of the winter weather.
“Remember the goal is to win! You don’t get to do a victory lap when you get overwhelmingly rejected by the voters,” Ulrich tweeted.
Obviously, the councilman should not expect the welcome mat in Malliotakis’s district, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, and it seems unfathomable for any city Republican that supported her mayoral bid last year to now support Ulrich for Public Advocate.
And GOP voters in Ulrich’s home borough of Queens are divided over the pol, ever since he helped a political ally unseat former Congressman Bob Turner from his position as chairman of that county’s Republican Party.
Thus, a clear path exists for Curtis Sliwa to unite Independents and Republicans in a center-right coalition that can help him win the upcoming special election for Public Advocate. He is the right candidate for the office — for as long as it exists.
Bob Capano is the chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party and is a professor of political science.