Curtis Sliwa emerged as a controversial figure in New York in the late 1970s as the founder of the Guardian Angels. He has parlayed his success as an activist into a career as a political commentator on television and radio. He took time between his radio shows to speak with Metro New York at the 77WABC Radio station in Manhattan.
What image do you try to project on the local political talk shows? Some say you come across as a clown on NY1’s “Political Rundown.”
Well it’s clear that each of the forms is different for me. If you see me on New York 1, I’m very campy. When I’m doing my weekly debates with Gerson Borrero, I’m wearing all kinds of outfits and costumes. You know the king’s crown for Cuomo, the communist hat for de Blasio. I’m very much doing the entertaining, but getting across the points.
I just try to inject more entertainment into it because all of these people are so serious that you’d have a heart attack. Whereas, I think the way you convey information is to have a comedic side to it.
The younger generation [watch] John Stewart and others like him and that’s how they get their news and information. They want to be entertained.
But radio is where I really get to shine because now I’m two different personalities. I’m debating Ron Kuby, who is a highly radicalized attorney, well known. And then, I’m pointing out information and news and interviewing guests at the drive-home at 5. So I’m wearing multiple berets. But I’m enjoying it all. I’m like lens lice. I don’t know a microphone or a camera that I don’t want to make love to.
Speaking of politics, how do you rate the performance of Mayor Bill de Blasio compared to the other mayors who have led the city during your lifetime?
I call him the dope from Park Slope because he just glides through the office. Now, there are mayors I didn’t like. I didn’t like [John] Lindsay who I grew up with. I didn’t like [David] Dinkins. I didn’t like Abe Beam.
Bill de Blasio has his own agenda. He wakes up at 8:30, rolls out with his posse. He goes to work out at the Y in Park Slope, goes across the street for a cup of coffee and a croissant. And then he spends a lot of the time dialing for dollars, openly and boldly.
As far as I’m concerned, he’s a part-time mayor and he’s failed miserably and I’d like to make him a one-term mayor.
What’s your take on President Donald Trump?
He’s a crackpot, screwball. I know him well. I have a love-hate relationship with him. He’s a manic-depressive and he’s schizoid. With Hillary, when she ran, I didn’t like her. I thought she was a liar, very evasive. So I voted for myself in the presidential election.
Have you given any thought to running for mayor?
I’m asked that all the time.
You made a bid for public office once, right?
Actually, it was Public Advocate and the [New York} Post promoted me. It urged me to run because I said that if I had won the first thing I would do is close the office down. To me it’s a fake, phony, fraudulent, fugazy office. It’s just for political patronage.
And public advocates only use the office to run for mayor at taxpayers’ expense.
Look, you had Mark Green. He used it to run for mayor. De Blasio. Tish James is doing that right now. What do these people do? What role do they play? None. Lot of news conferences, but there’s no initiatives, no directives.
You’re chairman of the Reform Party of New York State. Would you run for mayor as the party’s candidate?
Some of the party members have asked me to run. The only thing I may have to run for, because to maintain the status of the party we have to get 50,000 votes the next gubernatorial cycle, which is in a year. So I might have to run for governor. First of all, I would love to. Cuomo is just so corrupt.
It was widely reported that you engineered a hostile takeover of the Reform Party. Is that true?
Oh it was. We were pirates. We were all members of what was originally called the Common Core Party. It was created by [Westchester] County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, conservative. He challenged Cuomo in the last gubernatorial election. So he had this [party] line. He figured that people who hated common core would vote on that line for him because they might not vote for him as a Republican. Some people will not vote Republican.
Astorino decided to change the Common Core Party to the Reform Party, but not the Reform Party that Ross Perot had created that is a national party. But for what purpose? He was parking it because he wanted to use it to run for governor again. So we saw, as members, he wasn’t doing anything. We reached out to the party leadership. They weren’t going to do anything. So it was a hostile takeover. It was challenged in court by Astorino and his people and they lost in Albany. So we now run the New York State Reform Party and I was elected its chairman.
What would you like to see the party accomplish?
With New York State being the most corrupt in the nation, on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, there are three key measures. Initiative and referendum: we are proponents of that. We want people voting on concepts, not politicians. Number two: real term limits. And the third thing: nonpartisan elections. A person should be able to run without party affiliation. Because I think that clutters a person’s mindset.
And the other thing we’re saying to everyone out there is that you can’t wine, dine and pocket-line us like Bloomberg used to for third-party lines. We’re not a party for sale. And we want to develop our own bench so that we have candidates who are real Reform Party members running for statewide office, citywide offices and Assembly, state Senate and eventually villages, boroughs and towns.
Are the Guardian Angels an anachronism? What are the Guardian Angels doing in 2017?
We’re a worldwide organization in 16 countries, 130 cities, but New York is our mecca. Crime obviously is not what it was when I started the group in 1979. It’s gone down dramatically. But in the subways, the number one problem we focus on —that the city does not or the MTA and the transit police —are the pervs. These are men who stalk women. Weenie wavers. Molesters. It’s constant in the system.
The pervs in the subway get hit with misdemeanors. Some of these guys, 40 or 50 times.
What we do is come up with these fliers. The MTA don’t put up notifications. We put them up and we hand them out. Guys will look at it and say no biggie. But women definitely glom on to it because they all have horror stories of guys who have come up and exposed themselves to them, jerked off or rubbed against them, stalked them.
There is a small transit unit of police that’s dedicated to it, but the pervs know who they are. What they’re not used to is being hunted. And now there’s cellphone video and we encourage women to take pictures and then we share it.
We have a special patrol, the perv busters, with mostly female Guardian Angels. So I would say that’s our best contribution now. There’s 150 Guardian Angels in New York City and about 28 of them are Perv Busters. The others do regular patrols, neighborhood patrols and also subway patrols.
Are there certain areas that patrols focus on?
Central Park, Van Cortland Park, Christopher Street. We’ve had a presence there in Greenwich Village for 20 years. And then we have a presence in Brooklyn and up in the Bronx with street patrols.
What do you tell people who say the Guardian Angels are a thing of the past?
Oh, there’s no doubt that we were more needed years ago, but for instance we’ve been able to adapt to where needs are that are not being addressed. Our most recent program is the Guardian Angel Animal Protection Program in which we round up feral cats and we get them spayed and neutered and we place them in neighborhoods that have rat and rodent populations because it’s a natural way of suppressing populations without using pesticides.
Is there anything you’d like to do or accomplish that you haven’t done yet?
Within the context of New York or New York City, where I grew up, benefitted from public school education, parochial school education, although I am a high school dropout, is make sure that civics is a mandatory class. That’s where I developed a love for government and politics, even though I’m a big critic.
They don’t mandate that any more. I want to make sure that is mandated because we have a whole generation out there, particularly this hipster, millennial generation, who grew up without civics, who think the process doesn’t want them. And quite frankly, the process does want to keep the playing field to themselves. I want more people involved.
That’s why I urge same-day registration for voting, modern techniques. You should be able to switch your party affiliation one day to the next. All the nonsense that’s done to prohibit people from voting needs to be undone. And if you educate people in civics classes, you’re going to have a lot more participation.
What would you say is your biggest regret in your professional life?
My biggest regret Professional life? That’s a good one. Getting married so many times. I’ve had three marriages and a I’ve had a relationship with the Queens borough president. We never got married, but my two youngest boys are a part of that relationship.
Getting married all those times, man, has caused me and I’m sure them a lot of aggravation. I had to spend a lot of time in court, family court and I could have, knowing the kind of person I am, not done it. But I’ve been known to be a serial marry-er. I get married. They have a problem. They kick me to the curb. And then all of a sudden I’m wanting to get married again. There’s got to be a rehab for this. I’m ready to sign up.