Catsimatidis won’t switch parties to run for mayor

Grocer, developer and oil-refining billionaire pondering bid on Republican, Liberal lines

John Catsimatidis (Getty, iStock; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)
John Catsimatidis (Getty, iStock; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

It was one of John Catsimatidis’ better lines: Jesus Christ himself could not win the New York City mayor’s race as a Republican, he said last month.

But Catsimatidis might try it anyway, he said Saturday.

The billionaire grocer, oil refiner and developer said he would not change his party affiliation to run in the Democratic primary June 22. The deadline to switch was Feb. 14, and was later changed to today by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but Catsimatidis did not see much chance for victory as a Democrat, although he used to be one.

“Due to the fact that 38 candidates are declared at this time, I will not be seeking to run on the Democratic line,” he said in a statement.

Catsimatidis added that if he does run, it would be on the Republican and Liberal party lines.

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The little-known Liberal Party is not actually liberal, and neither is Catsimatidis, who has said he can be a liberal Republican or conservative Democrat.

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In 2013 he spent $12 million of his own money — roughly 0.4 percent of his $3 billion net worth — on a mayoral run but lost the Republican primary to Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief executive.

Republicans have won mayoral races in the city before, but it takes a rare combination of circumstances. Rudy Giuliani defeated incumbent David Dinkins, the city’s first Black mayor, in 1993 when the city was racially divided and crime was rampant. Giuliani was still relatively popular when he won re-election in 1997 against Ruth Messinger, the unheralded Manhattan borough president.

On the heels of the 9/11 attacks, then-Republican Michael Bloomberg eked out a victory over Democrat Mark Green in 2001 on the strength of an endorsement by a temporarily resurgent Giuliani and about $75 million in campaign spending — about 10 times what Green spent.

Bloomberg won re-election in 2005, dipping into his pocket again to spend even more money than he did in 2001. He pushed through an extension of term limits to run a third and final time in 2009, spending upwards of $100 million and defeating Democrat Bill Thompson by an unexpectedly narrow margin.

By 2013 the city’s electorate had shifted left, allowing Bill de Blasio to cruise to victory over Lhota in the general election. Catsimatidis is not a fan of the change in the city’s politics.

“I stand by my belief that the so-called progressive movement is actually regressive, taking our city back 30 years,” he said in the statement.