As Gristedes supermarket mogul-turned-Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis worked the room at a senior center last week, a woman inquired, "Are you applying for mayor?"
A delighted Catsimatidis responded, "I'm applying for the job of mayor!"
"I'm 65 years old," Catsimatidis informed residents repeatedly that day at various senior centers around Queens. "All my friends are retiring, and I'm applying for a new job!"
There is indeed a degree to which Catsimatidis appears to see his mayoral run as yet another business venture — perhaps not an especially lucrative one for the billionaire, but one in which his business acumen can be put to use.
His proposed approach to dealing with the city pension crisis Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly warned of draws heavily from private-sector practices: a push toward a model of paying workers "more money up front so they can live better and have them create their own 401K plan."
"You can't have a 70 percent benefit plan where you're paying a person $100 but it's actually costing the city $170," he explained.
But he said the same approach likely can't be applied to current employees, whose situations will likely remain largely the same. Even though those employees are in need of new contracts, "it doesn't mean you're going to shortchange them," Catsimatidis said.
His use of the word "shortchange" is notable for its appearance in a fairly recent New York Post report that an appeals court sided with a Manhattan federal judge and against Catsimatidis, ordering Catsimatidis to pay almost $3.9 million in legal fees to the lawyers of workers "who sued over being shortchanged."
The appeals court maintained the workers "were not paid proper overtime premium compensation for all hours that they worked in excess of 40 in a workweek since April 30, 1998," and affirmed allegations of "reduction of hours [and] withholding of overtime," among other complaints.
And earlier this year, the Daily News reported on a settlement with female Gristedes employees who said they were pushed into lower-paying, part-time positions and denied jobs at the management level. Catsimatidis reportedly told the Daily News that he settled to avoid paying lawyer fees, which he had been ordered to do in the other suit.
Catsimatidis prides himself on not being a career politician — unlike "professional politicians [who] depend on lobbyists to go from job to job." He is the classic billionaire candidate: He does not need special interests' money and seems to care little for political correctness.
At one senior center, a woman approached the candidate and asked, "Are you planning on hiring retarded commissioners?"
Catsimatidis looked at her questioningly, and the woman went on to explain that "functional" commissioners wouldn't need an inspector general, as has been ordered for the NYPD. She repeated her question.
"You're right," he affirmed.
Later, as staffers deliberated on how to fit a reporter into a crowded car for an interview, Catsimatidis turned to a young male staffer and, gesturing to the female reporter and a female photographer, asked, "You don't mind squeezing between two girls?"
The staffer smiled and responded that he did not mind, and Catsimatidis turned to the female reporter and asked with a grin, "Can you handle him?"