Republican Primary Rundown: The @Jcats2013 Edition

The Republican mayoral race has burst into public view, with at least seven candidates and hope-to-be candidates.   My prediction?  It’s Catsimatidis and Lhota, with the wildcard of A.R. Bernard.  Here’s a quick rundown on the Republican primary field:

1.  John Catsimatidis:  Which recent Republican nominee will he most resemble?  A schlubby version of Michael Bloomberg, a self-made, self-financing successful businessman and effective CEO focused on serious campaign issues and governing, albeit with a thick New York accent, $100 suits and a messy haircut?  Or the New York City version of the Carl Paladino Clown Show?

Catsimatidis’s strengths include money, a “real New Yorker”/immigrant success story, an engaging (but decidedly untelegenic) presence and, by comparison to the rest of the candidates, a relatively long history with the Republican party.  Concerning money, if he is willing and able to put in tens of millions of dollars, as he previously suggested, he has a dramatic advantage.  If he’s serious about spending his own money, and puts in a lot of money early, he can push most of the field aside.

Chief among his negatives is his rambling, unfocused style.  At his energetic and well-attended launch press conference, he gave a freeform discourse that touched on many potentially winning themes but did not coherently develop any of them.  He did, however, pop out some one-liner gems, with the best being that as a grocer by trade he will not take a Bloombergian $1 per year as mayor, but will instead go for 99¢.  A good staff and some focus may develop his ability to convince voters – we’ll see.  He should learn from the example of Carl Paladino.  The public can quickly sour on a a self-made, wealthy, engaging but untelegenic businessman candidate who indulges in rambling discourses, doesn’t really understand government operations or policy issues and overpromises/underdelivers on self-funding.  The Carl Paladino transition from an angry everyman to an unappealing crank was quick.  Once that impression forms, the race is over.

Side notes:

  • At his launch press conference, Catsimatidis supporters cheered most energetically when he portrayed himself as supportive of illegal immigrants.  He described being at “a meeting” where others complained that “those illegal immigrants are getting free healthcare at the emergency ward.”  Catsimatidis rejected that complaint, saying to loud cheers that “we’re Americans, we take care of all people, we don’t turn our backs on anyone.”  That sentiment is dramatically out of step with the national Republican party.  Whether he can ride it to victory with New York City Republicans is worth watching.
  • One small challenge overcome:  Having a 12 letter last name in a 140 character world.  His twitter handle:  @Jcats2013

2. Joe Lhota:  Watching him at the Daily News candidate forum last week revealed his basic strength:  He’s a serious guy who knows how city government works and he has made it work.  His fairly stern stage demeanor matches well with his record and accomplishments.  Having been a Rudy Giuliani deputy should play very well in the primary and add to his natural appeal to city Republicans.  Can he make up for lost time in organizing and fundraising?  Will his libertarian tilt work in the Republican primary?

3.  Tom Allon:  He showed himself to be a strong debater, getting a fair amount of mic time and zipping off good one-liners at the Daily News forum, while showing a real interest and knowledge about city issues.  He also was astute enough to switch his party registration early so that he is not dependent on the Republican county chairs and their executive committees to get on the ballot.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to see the Upper West Sider making progress in the Republican mayoral primary.  My free advice:  move to be the Republican candidate for Public Advocate and you’ll have a chance in the general.

4.  Rev. A.R. Bernard:  He is reported to be seriously interested in running, and the Republican county chairs are reported to be seriously interested in him.  He’s influential and well-known in some segments of the city, but he’s a political unknown to most of the city.  A big question:  how many members of his congregation are registered Republicans?  Can he catch on among Republicans?  Maybe, but time is already running out for him.

5.  George McDonald:  The first declared Republican candidate, he has struggled for traction and now finds himself falling away from the leaders.

6.  Adolfo Carrion:  An early candidate, the lifelong Democrat needs three county chairs’/executive committees’ approval to appear on the Republican ballot.  He got two out of the five (Savino and Eaton), but has stalled.  Two others (Isaacs and Ragusa) appeared with John Catsimatidis at his launch, so absent the Staten Island chair moving to help him, he will not be on the Republican primary ballot.

7.  Malcolm Smith:  He faces the same candidacy-killing obstacle as Adolfo Carrion.  As a Democrat he needs county chair/executive committee support and that appears unlikely.

~  John Kenny