Greek American mayoral candidate during an exclusive interview unfolds the priorities of his program.
New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Billionaire mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis showed the power of focus that may be at the root of his enormous business success when, taking a seat for an interview with the GN in a Big Apple conference room on April 12 (the beginning of a weekend that held nine public appearances), he asked his interviewer an interview question: “What do you want to accomplish today?”
JC: What do you want to accomplish today?
GN: I’d like to provide the readers of the Greek News with an inside view of how you will stand behind your campaign slogan: “I care about the future of New York City”.
JC: Let’s start from the beginning. I’ve been a Chief Executive Officer running twenty different companies in twenty different industries for over forty years. A CEO, to be a success, requires a unique personality, a person who is simultaneously a leader, a chief marketing person to make sure the sales are there, a chief financial officer to make sure that the people that are marketing are not just giving away the merchandise and that the books balance, and a person who’s a “people person” to ensure that when he says ‘Charge! everybody is following behind him–that’s he’s not by himself–whether it’s in war, or in business. The Chinese have written books on the art of war… and it is a unique fact that you have to fight for your business; you have to make your customers happy. You’ve got to be tough, but at the same time you’ve got to be fair, and I don’t find a lot of individuals, even in the position of so-called CEO’s, who have all those talents combined. If you do, you become a successful CEO in a successful company. If you don’t, your results are not going to be good, whether you’re running a city or running a company.
GN: One of your campaign slogans is “Proven leadership that works”, and you’ve just backed that up. The last I read, Governor Pataki, Brooklyn Republican Party Chairman Craig Eaton, and former Staten Island GOP Congressman Vito Fossella have endorsed you. Are there new endorsements?
JC: We have Dean Skelos, the number one Republican in the state and majority leader in the state Senate, three County Republican Chairmen–Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan–and we’re going to get more.
GN: You seeded your campaign with a million dollars. What is your campaign strategy?
JC: We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on radio advertising. We’re going to do television. We started print advertising last week, sending mailers to people’s homes. We just put in another million for the campaign.
GN: Are you encountering any problems?
JC: Name recognition. The professional politicians have been in the newspapers for the last ten years. So the rest of the world has to find out my name. Also the fact that I’m running but don’t have to run. I’m a successful businessman. I’m only running to do well for our city. I don’t need a job going in. I don’t need a job going out. I want our city to maintain its leadership in the world.
GN: How will it keep that status?
JC: I think New York is the greatest city in the world. Mike Bloomberg has done a great job inducing the people of the world–whether it’s Europeans, Russia, the Middle East, the Far East, or the South Americans–to put hundreds of millions of dollars into New York. You know, when we had a depression, a recession, in our country, New York felt it less. Why? Because those people have confidence, and they said “We want our money in New York no matter what happens in the world; no matter what happens to the euro, no matter what happens in Europe, New York will survive, and we’ve got confidence. Because of Mike Bloomberg’s leadership and Commissioner Kelly’s keeping our streets safe.
GN: Keeping crime down is one of the three major points in your campaign.
JC: The crux of my campaign is safety in the streets. We’re the safest big city in our country, and in the world, too. Some examples: in Detroit, for every 100,000 people there were 64 murders; in Chicago, for every 100,00 people there were 20 murders… in New York, less than 5. That is amazing. So I want to continue safety in our streets. I don’t want to go backwards; I don’t want the hoodlums to take charge.
GN: What are you plans for creating jobs?
JC: California has Silicon Valley… we want to start Silicon Alley. Google was very successful coming to New York and building giant hotels, beautiful hotels and restaurants in what used to be the Meatpacking District, creating a Mecca in a place that was a blighted area. I think we can do that with the whole lower west side between Madison Square Garden and the World Trade Center to induce all the big biotech companies and internet companies, as well as high technology companies, to bring their employees to New York. They’ll be able to induce their employees who make 75,000-100,00 dollars a year to come here because of the quality of life in New York versus that in small town that has one movie theater, one diner. We need high-paying jobs. We don’t need any more 8.00 an hour jobs.
GN: Please talk about your idea for a World’s Fair.
JC: I was telling people that 1939 we had the World’s Fair, the 1964 World’s Fair. I’m saying we should have the 2015 World’s Fair. The theme would be the 21st century. I spoke to Mayor Bloomberg about it. He was pushing the Olympics. The problem with the Olympics is that it’s a three-week flash-through. A World’s Fair is 4-5 months one year, 4-5 months the year after. What Bloomberg was going to do so we would create jobs in all five boroughs. We’re going to connect all five boroughs not only by the normal connection but also by riverboats. Just like Disney World, being able to go from one part of the World’s Fair in a riverboat to the Bronx, a riverboat to Manhattan, to Staten Island, connecting everything. Everybody loves the idea. It’ll give our kids and our grandkids the “wow effect” when they walk into pavilions with all the major companies in the world giving their vision for what the 21st century is going to be.
GN: The World’s Fair is your vision.
JC: Yes. When we were talking about leadership qualities before, there is another quality a leader has to have; he has to be a visionary. Not just a maintenance man. I have a vision for New York. I promoted Tony Lo Bianco’s performance as Mayor LaGuardia a few weeks ago. Mayor La Guardia was a visionary. I love his statement, “It’s not about being a Republican. It’s not about being a Democrat. It’s about being a New Yorker and wanting the best for all New Yorkers”. The LaGuardia of the 21st century: that’s what I want to be when I grow up!
GN: That brings us back to your baseline campaign slogan “I care about the future of New York City”.
JC: Yes. And how we can create the new New York and let everybody just come. I could go on for the next two hours, but let me just mention that another big business is tourism. We’re at 50-55 million tourists now; I think we can bring it to 70 million, and we’ll have to build more hotels
GN: Are there other plans to draw tourists in addition to the World’s Fair?
JC: Yes. I met with the Waterfront Commission the other day. I’ll try to bring more ships into New York like the old days. That’s a hidden asset that nobody
realizes about New York City.
GN: You emphasize education in your campaign.
JC: I believe that when kids are not capable of academic study we should be able to teach them a trade instead of forcing them to take calculus in high school, having them fail, then drop out.
GN: You’ve mentioned that many high school kids can’t read or do math. What can be done?
JC: It’s a sin, and we have to fix our teaching system. I will sit down with the teachers union and say that 95 percent of the teachers are great, but 5 per cent are not. Everybody’s got to realize that our kids come first and we’ve got to get rid of the rotten apples. You can’t sit there and protect the 4 or 5 per cent who are not capable of being teachers. It’s a big problem and requires strict negotiation, which I’m prepared to do.
GN: “Aim high” seems to be your personal motto. One of your campaign slogans is “From the streets of Harlem to the top of American industry, John Catsimatidis wants every child to know they can succeed.” How will you give that message?
J.C. I’ve always opted to teach young kids how to strive for success; how to have vision, how to aim high. It’s about teaching our youth to be smarter and to aim high. I was born on a small island, a piece of rock. My parents brought me to America and we lived on 135th Street, a poor neighborhood. My father was a busboy. He urged me to get a good education, so I got that education. I did drop out of college when I was just a few credits short, but I did attend for four years, and learned all I could learn. John Sextant, the president of NYU said to me, “Well, come back and finish”. I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’ll come back and teach a course”.
GN: You also talk about the importance of practical experience.
JC: Yes. I can almost say that my daughter, who just finished four years of NYU’s Stern Business School–where she took a lot of good courses–would have learned ten times more if she had been sitting next to me for four years. I can’t emphasize enough that being a good CEO requires more. I repeat: you have to be a leader, a chief marketing person, a chief financial officer, a person who’s a “people person”, and a good legal person… not necessarily an expert in every one of those disciplines, but whether it’s for a city or a company it takes those qualities to be a good CEO. And if you’re lacking them the city or the company will suffer.
GN: Where do you stand on taxation?
JC: You can’t just keep raising taxes. New Yorkers are leaving! They’re going to Florida, to South Carolina, Texas. If you look at the study of the states that have the least taxes and are friendliest to businesses, you see that they’re growing in leaps and bounds. Traditional states that are run by labor unions and certain groups are failing! And their taxes are the highest ever. You reach a point where everybody is just going to get up and leave. This applies to the country, as well. China is moving ahead in leaps and bounds. They are the pioneers. China is where the US was in the 1930‘s and 1040’s, when everybody worked their tail off to build factories, to build airplanes. Right now we are in a tailspin. The facts that Washington is spinning that “We’re not so bad!”… they’re lying to us. Anybody that knows about Washington knows they’re lying more and more every day now.
GN: How is that manifested?
JC: None of the big companies is building any big factories or making large capital expenditures because the large companies, the Fortune 200, are spending most of their money in other countries; creating jobs in other countries, where the taxation is less, where the labor laws are less. It’s the example of Brittania, which one ruled the seas but now has sunk. I’m afraid that in the United States we’re reaching a point where we can’t excel because of the regulations in Washington, the amount of lawsuits against businesses from the legal community.
GN: What message would you give the Greek American community?
JC: Aim to be the most successful New Yorker, not necessarily the most successful person in Astoria. In other words: aim high… see beyond it. People who don’t know how to write in English send me e-mails from Greece. If you communicate in Greek, only twelve million people will be able to recognize your language, but if you communicate in English, a billion people in the world will be able to recognize it. Maybe that’s a bad example; maybe it’s a good example, but if you’re aiming toward twelve million people as opposed to a billion people, it’s not smart. I have great respect for the country of my forefathers and where I was born, but you have to have a wider mind.
GN: How can the Greek American community help you win!
JC: They can vote for me! If they’re Democrats they can become registered Republicans for the election then register as Democrats afterward.