The Guardian’s Angle: A Q&A With Curtis Sliwa

The Guardian’s Angle: A Q&A With Curtis Sliwa

The Guardian’s Angle: A Q&A With Curtis Sliwa
January 12, 2015

Curtis Sliwa rose to fame in the 1980s as the founder of the Guardian Angels, the unarmed citizen crime patrol force that now operates in 17 countries and 67 cities around the world. Since the inception of the organization, Sliwa, who is instantly recognizable by his iconic red beret, has been involved in New York State politics as a commentator, agitator and candidate booster. For over two decades he’s been a fixture on conservative talk radio—currently he’s the host of both the morning and evening drive time shows on AM 970. He also appears in a segment every Wednesday on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” in which he spars with El Diario columnist Gerson Borrero on the issues du jour.

Most recently Sliwa has been in the news as the partner of former City Councilwoman Melinda Katz, the Queens County Democratic Party’s choice for Borough President.City & State Editor Morgan Pehme spoke with Sliwa about the New York City mayoral race, stop-and-frisk, and what Queens can expect if Sliwa winds up the First Gentlemen of the borough.


The following is an edited transcript.

City & State: You’ve been doing hour-long interviews with each of the mayoral candidates on your radio show. What’s your impression of the field?

Curtis Sliwa: Well, first off, I understand the rigors of a campaign. I’ve campaigned for candidates before, devoted a lot of time, in fact, to Giuliani’s campaign, Bloomberg’s campaign, Pataki’s campaign—very heated campaigns. I see what they have to go through. But this year, in particular, all of these forums, it’s like [when] the Republicans when they were running in their primary, every other week there was a debate. Well, now there’s like two debates a night [and] they’re limited to 90-second sound bites, and it just struck me … it’s not really fair to people who are interested and it wasn’t fair to me when I first started the Guardian Angels and talk radio was the only place I could break out of a 30-second sound bite in defense. So people like Barry Gray, Barry Farber, and the king of talk radio at the time Bob Grant would have me come on and give me a full hour to explain myself, the zaniness, that I wasn’t a Hells Angel, that I wasn’t a vigilante, this is why I was doing what I was doing, and they had tremendous police audiences who were my advisories and it softened their—they said, “I never knew. Wow, the way you explain that.” And they never saw that on TV, because you’re limited to a 30-second sound bite. And these candidates, many of them don’t even get that, they don’t get any airtime. So I convinced management, I said, look, we should have a forum, no matter who the candidates are, whether they’re big names or small names, let them come on for an hour and discuss at length the issues.

This last Tuesday, we had John Liu. Rather than rehash the bundling campaign financing problems, whether he worked in the sweatshop or didn’t, it’s already been [done]. “Stop-and-frisk, why are you the only candidate who is inalienably opposed to any form,” and he was able to extrapolate. “DC 37, you made a deal with the union, you said you would give them retroactive pay, how are you going to pay for that? It’ll break the bank.”

And then he explained. He actually said to me, “You know, wow, I was really able to explain.” I wasn’t interfering or jumping in. And Errol Louis, who I do NY1 with—he’s the moderator once a week—he was listening on his way going up to one of the forums that John Liu was going to in Harlem where they were having, you know, the seven or eight candidates, and Errol said, “Yeah, wow, that was really interesting, I wish we could do that but you can’t deny candidates, you have to be open to all.”

So maybe the best way of going about this in the future is they should give a candidate one hour. It’s like Charlie Rose, PBS style, it’s not normally what you associate with talk radio, but imagine, we’re gonna have to make a major decision to replace Michael Bloomberg, and there are a lot of choices out there and there are people we don’t know much about. We just know their name or their 30-second sound bite, and I think the voters need this. And everywhere I’ve gone, people have been appreciative—other than they’ve said, “Oh, you should have attacked them.” I said, “Look, there’ll be enough time to do that. I do that in my commentaries every day. I do that on NY1. This is their time to talk to you, the voters, and try to convince you of the righteousness of their position. And so far all the candidates who have come on have been pleasantly surprised, plus they get a chance to chow down, which, as you know, on a hectic campaign schedule they’re eating the worst food, the absolutely worst of food which kills them—many of them, physically kills them—and they get a good meal, surrounded by people who really don’t know much about them, and it’s a learning process, so we’ve got Billy Thompson to go, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner, and I hope they’ll all attend. I know de Blasio and Thompson will, not sure about Quinn, not sure about Weiner, but they should, because I’m not gonna beat them up. The people need to hear from them.

C&S Why do you think that Christine Quinn or Anthony Weiner would be reluctant to go on with you for an hour and really have that substantive dialogue that candidates always say is lacking from the campaign?

CS: Because I don’t think they would believe that I’m capable of that. They know I’m a pit-bull terrier. They’ve seen me and my commentaries. I take no prisoners. I am so politically incorrect that at times you don’t even want to be near the microphone when I’m giving my commentary ’cause you think this is gonna taint you or damage you. I mean look, with Christine Quinn, “I say, oh, Christine Quinn with the glow-in-the-dark orange Revlon hair, Speaker of the fifty-one slackers of the City Council, who wants to replace Michael Bloomberg over my dead body.”

Now, if I had an introduction like that would I think the person is then gonna turn over the forum to me? Or Anthony “The Whiner” Weiner, who I’ve always questioned about his stickball prowess, since—remember his video in 2005 when he decided not to run in the run-off against Freddie Ferrer—he said “I’m the commissioner of stickball of the City of New York.” I said right away, “You can’t play stickball on that block, there’s too many trees!” And again, in the viral thing, he said, “I played stickball growing up,” so I’ve challenged him to play stickball, change diapers since I got one kid now I gotta change diapers, “Let’s see how you change Jordan’s, I’ll change Hunter’s.” But I think he hasn’t been able to lighten up yet, because, remember, he’s still in his baptism of fire. If a Jew can be baptized, he’s certainly getting a baptism in fire. But he’s plunged in both feet first. I’m not gonna beat him up. I’m not gonna talk about all this other stuff. It’s been talked about. Issues. “Anthony, why did you say you wanted to rip out the bike paths and then I see you on one of these Pee-wee Herman bikes that I despise, I hate, I loathe. Are you being a fair weather politician, a fugazi politician, because you said you’re not? And an outer borough guy and gal would not be in favor of that for the most part unless you were a hipster. Are you a hipster or are you representing New Yorkers who have been born and raised in the middle class in the outer boroughs? That would be a fair question. And then I’d let him go.

C&S: Is the problem that all these campaigns are run by handlers who are carefully trying to control the message and the candidates are afraid to go into a forum where they might be asked questions that would take them out of their comfort zone?

CS: A lot of these men and women, if given to their own measures, would let their hair down. You are so right. The consultants have been spinning and I’ve been with the best. And I’ve been with the worst. I was with David Garth and Rudy Giuliani. I was with David Garth with Michael Bloomberg. I was with Guy Molinari when he literally molded Giuliani into a candidate. Giuliani would come out and give these dissertations like he was a professor when he first ran against Dinkins. Oh, my God, he would bore them. Molinari started slapping him around, the Godfather who would make Republicans mayors against these incredible odds five-to-one. With Bloomberg he assigned Vinny LaPadula, who I was good friends with. Vinny had to shape him up. I mean, Bloomberg was getting smashed all around. He was making mistake after mistake. To their credit, they listened, though. They didn’t let their humungous egos get in the way, because they realized they knew nothing about retail politics. Giuliani, U.S. Attorney, people kiss his tuchus, so they won’t get indicted. Bloomberg has billions, they kiss his tuchus. You’re out there in the streets, they don’t kiss your tuchus. They give you the Curtis Sliwa salute: the finger. And they’ll get right in your face. How do you deal with that? And that’s why those kind of people are invaluable. But there are other consultants, they basically pimp the rides. They tell you whatever you want to hear, because they’re just there for the money. And then, basically, they burn the barn down and they’re on to the next campaign. They could just as easily work for your adversary and whisper the same nothings into their ears, so I know, and what I’ve seen also in campaigns that makes me want to soil myself, is when the consultants will come in and say, “It’s time for negative research.” And it’s twenty cents of every dollar that goes into this—the grim reaper activities—really, the part of politics that you hate, you despise, you loathe. The first thing they say to the candidate is “Before we go any further as to whether you’re going to contract us or not, we’re going to investigate you.” And the candidate is like, “What do you mean you’re going to investigate me?” “Well, we’re gonna tell you everything that your adversaries are gonna to bring up: all the dirt, everything you never want brought to the public. And when you sit there and you see that, you say “This is twenty percent of where the money goes? To negative research? With so many issues of great substance that have to be discussed?” So I’ve had a chance to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and realize the positive things that have to be maintained to keep this political process going, because many places in the world where I have Guardian Angels something like this doesn’t exist. And so few people show up to vote. Shame on them. You know, like Cuomo said, “Shame on Anthony Weiner.” No, no, no! Shame on us who don’t even bother to vote. Primaries, general elections, so few turn out because literally both sides try to suppress votes instead of encouraging them.

C&S: You have devoted a good portion of your career to law enforcement and public safety. What is your take on the stop-and-frisk debate?

CS: Remember, the first thirteen years of the Guardian Angels, I was stopped and frisked probably more than any person in the history of stop-and-frisk. It didn’t exist back then, it was just meant to harass. Because we had said we carry no weapons. That gave entrée to every cop—at that time there were three separate departments, there was the city cops, the housing cops, and actually the transit cops—they would throw us against the wall and frisk us, because they didn’t believe, it was too good to be. ‘What, you don’t have weapons? You don’t have brass knuckles? You don’t have a stiletto? You don’t have a gun? Figure it, the more you stop-and-frisk them, it’s the argument of numbers, eventually you’re gonna get Guardian Angels. Well, they don’t realize, we stop and frisk each other before we even go on patrol, because we know human nature. Human nature is you’re gonna try to sneak a weapon on patrol, particularly if you had a bad time the last time out, where it was a life-threatening situation. Stop-and-frisk has been the most effective policy inherited from Giuliani and [former New York City Police Commissioner William] Bratton where it was minimally used. It’s excessively used now, because it’s now a numbers game. We have 10,000 less cops. There’s a thousand from that that are assigned to anti-terrorism duty—so now, 11,000 less. And yet crime, violent crime, is at a point that it was in 1956 when Dwight Eisenhower was president and playing golf every day… and Mickey Mantle was winning the Triple Crown in the pinstripes. 1956!

I campaigned for Rudy Giuliani. I never thought that those stats would tumble as they did in his administration. And I never thought that under Bloomberg, whose forte wasn’t public safety, they would continue to plummet. Luckily, he handed the reins to Raymond Kelly—and I’ve had many discussions with Raymond Kelly about this—stop-and-frisk works. And Chief [Gary] McCarthy in Chicago, who was tooted by Raymond Kelly—remember, he was the number four in the NYPD, he went on loan to Corey Booker to help the Newark Police Department, did a good job—was hired by Rahm Emanuel as police superintendant, and I have Guardian Angels there, so Kelly sometimes [would ask me], “What’s going wrong there?” and [I’d] say, “They won’t let McCarthy use stop-and-frisk. That’s why their crime is so horrific and why our crime is so down.”  But I have these arguments all the time because when people see me they know I’m a proponent of stop-and-frisk. In my own household, Melinda Katz will give me all kinds of grief: “Yeah, but this and this.”

The only area that I’ve seen it abused is what I see as so abusive toward all New Yorkers: quotas. Whether it’s tickets, fees, fines, the hidden taxes, and stop-and-frisk. There are quotas. And you give a cop a quota, and when he’s running out of time he’s gonna stop anyone. Not even gonna use his street sense, street smarts, to get the guns, he’s just gonna stop. And that’s it; the quotas are the poison in the mix. They must be eliminated. They call ’em “performance guidelines,” “productivity guidelines.” Garbage! It’s quotas. And every mayor lies about them, whether I’ve like them or not—“we don’t have quotas”—police commissioners lie about it. There are quotas imposed on all of these areas and that’s wrong. Because that then gives you a license to just start frisking everyone. So I’m a proponent of it, I’ve certainly argued with the very best on this subject. But that is the one singular reason that crime has gotten to the point where it is. I mean, we’re as safe as we were in 1956. Who could have imagined that? You would think that we were in a time capsule. I mean it’s not Leave It To BeaverFather Knows BestLittle House On The Prairie, but it’s incredible. It’s incredible.

C&S: How important is the decision as to who the next mayor is? If we choose the wrong mayor, could the city really take a precipitous downturn?

CS: Well, even more important than the mayor, the deed is done, the die is cast, Judge Shira Scheindlin is gonna make the decision, the federal judge that I witnessed three times rule in favor of John Gotti Jr. in that trial that I was involved in where he was accused of trying to have me killed. She did everything to bend in his direction. She does everything to bend in a criminal’s direction, a terrorist[’s]—she despises law enforcement, the Feds, the justice department, so she’s jaundiced. How she ended up getting four bites at stop-and-frisk, because what they do it’s like Vanna White, Wheel of Fortune, and they spin it and it goes to a federal [judge]? She basically made that her domain. And it’s not even being tried by a jury because the plaintiff’s lawyers who are suing it as a civil rights violation realize, “We got the best juror right here, Shira Scheindlin.”

[So,] it’s dead on arrival by Kelly not testifying, because he could have intellectually sparred with her. She would have taken over the Q & A. By having [retired NYPD Chief Joseph] Esposito go in there, a good tactician, but a lousy witness—because I know what you have to do as a witness and in a heated trial—that’s dead. So whoever becomes the mayor, they’re gonna have to live with the fact [that] like Philadelphia, [which] had it’s stop-and-frisk [program, which was instituted] by a black mayor, [Michael] Nutter, [and] by police chief [Charles] Ramsey, who I know well… [which was] going so well the ACLU sued them, the Justice Department stepped in, they basically gave them saltpeter, garnished their libido, when it comes to it, and now the crime is skyrocketing. That’s what’s gonna happen here and whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, even if they are an opponent or a proponent of stop-and-frisk, it’s never gonna be the same again. She will make sure of that. They’ll appeal it, but, then again, if it’s a candidate who is leaning in that direction, they won’t even appeal it, and [she, in] one fell swoop of the pen, will basically destroy stop-and-frisk, at least in our lifetime.

C&S: In terms of Melinda Katz, you have been doing some campaigning for her. Do you feel you have to moderate your opinions on anything so as not to be a liability to her campaign?

CS: I gotta tell you, I’m Queens’ first dad. Most of the work that I do for Melinda is to watch our two sons at night, because she’s out there like the rest of her adversaries, like everyone, as much as I attack them, they’re really working hard, morning, noon, and night. It’s not easy when you’re running for elective office, particularly in the crowded field she’s in, unlike Eric Adams, who can basically dance into office even though at any moment he’s gonna get indicted and go to the federal hooscow. So, I’m basically Queens’ first dad, so I’m watching our two sons, and I’m her maytag. She’s got a body guy whose part of the politics. She takes no political advice from me. She says, “Spare me. We couldn’t be more hopelessly different in our opinions. I’m not interested in your political opinions. I’ll ask you about neighborhoods, streets, street smarts stuff that maybe I’m not caught up on, but I’m not interested in your opinion.”

This ain’t like you get two-for-one—you know, like Hillary and Bill or some of the other political couples—she basically says, “Not interested. We’re so different. You couldn’t be any more different than I am.” And we are. When we have our discussions, man, it’s like ammonia and bleach. But there are events that I’ll go to, and the one thing that I’ll tell them about her—because they know how different I am and I don’t hesitate to say how different I am—she’s a true believer. I’ve supported people, who will remain nameless, I’ve put my body and soul and all my free time on the line to get them elected and they were not true believers. They were fakes, phonies, fraudulent fugazis. And I get so angry thinking about that because they faked me out and they faked out a lot of other people. She is an absolute true believer. She goes out there—win, lose or draw—she defends that. And, you know, I’m proud to be Queens’ first dad. So, when it comes to changing diapers, that’s why I know I can beat Anthony “The Whiner” Weiner, because I’m stuck all night, all in the early morning before I run out the door at 3 [a.m.] to come here, changing dirty water diapers.

C&S: What should Queens expect if you wind up the First Gentleman of the borough?

CS: First Gentleman? I’ll be in the outhouse! Not in Queens Borough Hall, the white house. Melinda has already been deputy borough president. She knows Queens. She was born and raised in Queens. I always viewed Queens as being soft. I’m Brooklyn, Bronx. That’s where I really feel the vibe. Queens: soft borough. You know, borough of intellects, kids who would go to [Benjamin] Cardozo [High School], Townsend [Harris High School], brainiac schools. Kids [who] I would view them [like], “You’re from Queens? You’re gonna be my milk money! I got the pin number right on my fist.” Not hardcore at all. That’s the environment she grew up in. So, culturally we couldn’t be any more different. Politically we couldn’t be any more different. And just as she doesn’t ever tell me what to say, I mean, look, some of the people she has to work with, when I get through with them on NY1 or on the radio program, I’m wondering if they’re even ever gonna talk to her again, but she has never asked me to back off. Just as, in this case, I never offer my political opinion, because I know it’s gonna be rejected.

C&S: And sometimes your opinions are diametrically opposed to each other. I know that you are adamantly against the overturning of term limits, and yet she voted for the extension.

CS: Yup, she voted for it. Vallone, at the time, I knew well, Vallone Jr. whose running against her, he voted for it. A whole host of people voted for it. And I was a Bloomberg supporter! I’m the one who went out initially—this is before 9/11—remember, before the turn around, Mark Green was kicking his butt. People don’t realize. There was like a twenty point differential. Bloomberg was a lousy candidate up ’til then. I was supporting Bloomberg against Mark Green. So, I believe in non-partisan elections. I believe in term limits. I would term limit everybody. Federal, judges, you name it. If the President gets term limited, everybody gets term limited. Our lives get term limited; nobody lives forever. But politicians for some reason, they think [that doesn’t apply to them]. In the case of Bloomberg, he broke the rules. And some sided with him, for whatever reason. So, we’ve had arguments about all of that. That’s why my two cent plain is not welcome in the political discussion, because you know what a two cent plain is, it’s like seltzer. Bland. Doesn’t stick.

I recognize every time I go out there, I could be doing damage to her, but, imagine, in spite of me—in spite of me—she got the Queens County party endorsement. What would the over/under point spread have been initially when you hear how I talk about [U.S. Sen. Chuck] Schumer and [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo and the powers that be? I mean, these are nationally prominent Democrats who, let’s face it, they don’t bite their tongue when giving opinions, as you saw with Cuomo, “Shame on us if we vote for Weiner.” I don’t have to tell you about Chuck. So the point being is, in spite of me, she worked hard, she went out there, she said “Stay out of my politics, I know my business. I know what I have to do to try to get the Queens County party endorsement.”

She went right into the black community, without my help, and basically started networking with all of her old contacts over 20 years, and got endorsement after endorsement. She went into Far Rockaway, she went into Rockaway. On those few times I would accompany her out here I’d figure, well everyone’s gonna be in the Rockaways. I mean, everyone cares about the Rockaways [with] Hurricane Sandy. I’d be at these events sometimes and I’d be like “Where are all of the other candidates?” Maybe they had to travel too far. But she’s worked that. She’s worked southeast Queens. She’s worked the Rockaways, because she’s been there before, so it’s like her backyard. She says, “I don’t need you there. This is Queens. I know Queens more than you. You don’t know the difference between 43rd Road, 43rd Avenue and 43rd Street.” And she’s absolutely right! It is the craziest geographic pattern. If I could move out of Queens in a heartbeat, I would. I get lost! 43rd Road, 43rd Avenue, 43rd Street, what kind of mishegoss is this? This is crazy. You would never find that in Brooklyn or the Bronx. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been going in circles, circles! I can’t find my way around, yet people like Melinda went to Hillcrest High School, they wake up, they could be half-stunned and they can find their way “Oh, 43rd? I know exactly where that is.” … As much time as I’ve spent in Queens over the years, I’ve never mastered that. So, she says, ‘Look, this is about Queens. You know nothing about nothing about Queens. Mind your Ps and Qs when it comes to my politics.’

C&S: You’re oftentimes such a vehement critic of so many of our politicians. Who’s actually good and genuine in New York State politics?

CS: My favorite has always been Rudy Giuliani. He’ll never get his due. People take for granted—now, they don’t even talk about crime as being one of the top issues of stop-and-frisk, which is used to draw the crime down, not about people carrying guns and using guns—you almost never hear about that. What he had to do—the bull in the china shop—he had to go in there knowing you weren’t gonna make friends, you were gonna make a lot of enemies. And he came in with his wrecking crew, and let me tell you something, he did a lot of things that alienated a lot of people, but if he hadn’t taken all those political risks we would not be in the situation we are now. Bloomberg was able to take advantage of that and he added to it. But I remember Al “Slim Shady” Sharpton had our combined onions in his hands—no justice, no peace at that time. [Ed] Koch, he spun Koch like a top. Koch, at the funeral of Yusef Hawkins, was left standing outside. They wouldn’t let him in to the wake to pay his respect—the mayor of the city of New York! And you know Ed Koch was as proud as they got. But [Sharpton] had basically showed, “I got it like that.” Rudy said, “I don’t care who you are, Sharpton or anyone else. I will be nobody’s maytag. I’m the mayor of the city of New York. I represent all the people, a lot of people that would be upset with me at times, but this has to be done or this city’s gonna slide into the abyss.”

Now people who are enjoying all of the benefits—and I see people attacking Rudy, criticizing Rudy, I say, “Look, do you remember what it was like? Do we have to go on a retrospective?” So, I like Rudy, but they’ve all disappointed me, and you learn a lesson from this: It’s about principles, not people. People are always gonna fail you. I’ve failed many, many times in my life. But I promoted certain principles: self help. I don’t believe in government basically taking care of you form the cradle to the grave. That’s why for 34 years I’ve exported the Guardian Angels now to 17 countries, 130 cities. I believe in self-help. If you have a problem, don’t depend on government. There’s not many people in New York City who talk about that, even people now who are Republicans or conservatives, you know, they’ve sort of morphed a bit. People in New York City are very much into the government has to do it or it can’t get done. And in some ways Rudy helped perpetuate that by being such a strong “El Jefe”, such a strong one-man rule. But ultimately that’s my philosophy, and I’ve told people many, many times, as I’ve told Melinda, I say, “You know, you keep this up, you get to be Queens Borough President, and just to spite you I’ll run against you.” I’ll just run against you, and we will disagree on almost everything under the sun.

C&S: And who are the worst politicians in New York State?

CS: The worst politicians in New York State are the ones who didn’t have to make their bones the hard way. Who either, because of pedigree, privilege, nepotism, or because they grew up in that system and have that system flowing through their veins and arteries, it’s hard for them to be independent and autonomous because that was their culture and they’re so used to keeping everyone out. It’s their club. If you talk their language, if you negotiate a network with them, if you do business the way they’re used to doing business—it’s like Shelly Silver, he’s old school—Shelly will say, “We gotta make sure that all of our people eat.” But at what cost? I understand that. You have to take care of your people. I have to take of the Guardian Angels all over the world, what kind of a leader would I be [if I didn’t]? But there’s the defining issue: at what cost do you make sure that all of your people eat? And, see, that’s sort of where the road splits…

I grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, 92nd Street and Conklin Avenue, as an idealistic young man who was doing recycling projects before there was Earth Day, before there was a green movement, before there was environmental awareness, you were called the “junk man.” I went to the local club. [the late Brooklyn Democratic boss] Meade Esposito was there, dropping the f-bomb every five seconds; [the late Assembly Speaker] Stanley Fink, dropping the f-bomb every five seconds, [the late Assemblyman] Tony Genovese, dropping the f-bomb every five seconds. They were wining, dining, pocket-lining. I saw Congressman [Frank] Brasco outside getting into an argument with a contractor who was getting tickets. He wanted the congressman to fix tickets. Brasco ended up going to jail for mail order fraud. I saw all this as a young boy. But I never lost my idealistic ability. Then I got arrested for assaulting a cop. I was a… night manager at a gas station. So an undercover cop stopped one of the mechanics who was testing a vehicle, had him up against [the wall]. I thought he was being held up. So I went in and I start slamming and jamming these guys. They beat the crap out of me. Pistols to my head, arrested me, broke my nose. I’m in court, 100 Schermerhorn Street, criminal court, I’m being charged with assault and battery of a cop. Imagine if that charge had stuck when I first started the Guardian Angels? … “He assaulted a cop.” That would have been over. My dad, [a] merchant seaman, not politically connected, humbled himself, humiliated himself, went in to Meade Esposito’s club, [knowing] how they fixed cases through their judges, [and] gave [Esposito] $10,000 to make sure that that charged disappeared. I showed up in court: dismissed. I love my dad. He just passed away this year. Had he not done that, my life could have been completely different, and I realize, all the other young guys, how many times have they gone to court unjustly, being charged? And it doesn’t go away. But my dad understood that’s how you had to do the business. As much as it bothered him and irritated him, he fixed the case for his son. And he hated every second of it, but he realized for what I was trying to do, as idealistic as I was then and continue to be, I could have been destroyed by that. And he didn’t have $10,000. I don’t know where he got it, what vig he had to pay, because you didn’t just borrow street money without points on it. He did it for me. I’ll always be grateful.

C&S: Doesn’t that make you feel that there are a lot of young people who are going through the system now, who maybe got caught up in stop-and-frisk, in circumstances that were beyond their control, who are experiencing similar injustices because of the severity of the system?

CS: There’s no doubt. Look, I’ve been locked up 76 times. I’ve been given wooden shampoos. I’ve been railroaded. I know exactly—the first 13 years [of The Guardian Angels], I call them the “terrible 13 years.” I had no support in the city. I’ve seen it from both ends. But all the mayoral candidates make this mistake: Our greatest natural resource gets locked up on Rikers Island, because they can’t make bail, 80 percent of them, or they’re sent away because they have to do time—and they should do time if they commit the crime. We have an attentive audience—they can’t go anywhere. Do we try to teach ’em how to read? Most of them can’t read, most of them can’t communicate, most of them are scared stiff. Yet you would never know that watching them as they suck their bottom lip, and say, “I fornicate you.” They could be 95 pounds soaking wet and they scare the living daylights out of people as they diddy bop down the street. They’re scared. They don’t know how to talk, they don’t know how to communicate, they’re very thoracic with their hands, but they’re not cerebral.

It comes from dysfunction in the house. That’s why I’ll call the UFT the “Union of Failed Teachers,” and have a good belly laugh at Michael Mulgrew’s expense, and I’ll watch Bloomberg and [Schools Chancellor Dennis] Walcott as they with fight one another, but, you know, neither side, nor any of the political candidates will do what I always do. I blame the home. Kid comes to school, and we’ve taught it in the schools—“character education”—for what they call the dysfunctional youth. You know what “character education” is? Teaching you how to wipe your tuchus when you go sit on the porcelain palace, how to brush your teeth, how to wash your hands. You don’t even know how to do that. When to speak, when to not speak. School shouldn’t be teaching that. That’s based on the dysfunction of the household. And we give parents and homes and guardians and grandparents—whoever are the mentors or the people in charge—a total pass. That’s why I’m saying self-help. You can’t blame the schools. I went to the same schools. I went to public schools. I went to parochial schools. I went to public schools when they were equal and better than parochial schools in the Sixties. And I know that there are a lot of hard-working teachers and I’ve seen them, and there are a lot who abuse, who take advantage. But it’s not the UFT’s fault. It’s not Walcott or Bloomberg’s fault. It’s the home… What do you think? They’re dysfunctional in the streets, they’re not gonna be dysfunctional in the classroom? They’re dysfunctional at home, they’re not gonna be dysfunctional in the classroom? All we’re doing is the blame game. When really we have to say, “Wait, it’s your kid. You’re responsible to get that kid to a point where they can civilly deal with this system that’s gonna improve their quality of life to give them a better opportunity to take advantage of what America’s all about.”

The other day I gave John Liu the perfect opportunity. I threw him a 13-inch clincher. I said, “John Liu, you went to an elite high school. You had to take a special test. You entered Bronx High School of Science, like Stuyvesant in Manhattan, Staten Island Tech, Townsend, these elite schools. Sixty percent of the population now is Asian or East Indian, because they earn it. They all take the same test. What is the secret? Look, you’ve done well. You were an immigrant from Taiwan.” He wouldn’t explain it. He said, “Oh, we’re not minorities with priorities.” Woah, you’re so politically correct!

When I went to school, Italian, Polish, Catholic, walk in, P.S. 114, most of the [honor roll] names on the walls were Jewish kids. And I’ll never forget the Italian side of my family. “You see, the Jewish teachers take care of the Jewish kids. You’re smart, Curtis, you make us proud, but notice they don’t give you the same marks.” My father was sitting there listening to all this crap from my Italian uncles and aunts, and said, “Come here, kid. Let me tell you something. Sit down here. The reason these Jewish kids are doing better than you is because they work harder than you. They study after school, they go to the library, they do extra credit reports. Do you know what they do? They look at microfilm—which was the Internet for us back then. Do you even know what microfilm is? Hang out with the Jewish kids instead of Lenny “Beans” Bianchino, instead of “Crazy” Joe, “Crazy” Sal, “Crazy” Vinny, who wanna hotwire cars and go for joy rides. Playing stick ball, you’re Mr. Stickball, box ball, stoop ball, Johnny on the Pony. Look, I played street games in Chicago when I grew up, but there’s a time and a place for that. Curtis, they’re working harder than you. They’ve earned it.” Boom! It was like a slap in the face. My mother could feel the vibrations. My mother was biting her lip, because my dad would raise his voice. He said, “Look, they’ve earned it. Do you know how much prejudice they’ve been through? And still, ten feet behind and yet they’ve leveled the playing field and now they’re excelling, they’re charging ahead. And what is your cousin Vinny and cousin Joey say? “Hey, Lenny, how come you have a book in your hand? Why don’t you learn a trade and become a carpenter? Go get a part-time job. What are you reading a book for?” [My dad] said, “Never in our household. We are gonna encourage you to read. Your problem is you don’t read enough. You read the sports pages. What is the sports pages gonna get you, Curtis?” He was right. But if I bought into all the propaganda of my family and extended family, I’d be an anti-Semite. “Oh, the Jewish teacher pulls the ear, pulls the nose. Ira Breskin, Lee Rosen…Sliwa, what’s Sliwa? Oh, that ain’t no Jewish name, later for you.” All lies.

C&S: You have been a real fierce critic of the governor. What’s your problem with Andrew Cuomo?

CS: Andrew “Evil Eyes” Cuomo, King Cuomo the Second, son of Mario “Faccia Brutta” Cuomo … Mario Cuomo was one of the first elected officials to embrace [The Guardian Angels]. He was lieutenant governor at the time. He held a fundraiser at Magique, which is right now in the shadow of the old 59th Street Bridge, a.k.a. Peter Vallone Jr., the Ed Koch Bridge. So, he was one of the few. And he said, “Look, these are the best, the finest young men and women.” He invited us up to Albany, he gave us awards. It was in direct defiance of Ed Koch, who was our number one adversary. So, I owed a lot to Mario Cuomo. But because he patted me so hard on the back I had to go for a chiropractic adjustment did not mean that I didn’t look at the great vacillator: Mario Cuomo. The words poured from his lips, but it was never followed by action. It would be followed by vacillation. And then when he decided, like everyone else who has these illusions of grandeur, that they need to be elected for life, until death do their part, because they don’t term limit themselves. “Oh, I should be governor for life since I passed on running for the presidency.”

I met a guy named George Pataki. I remember I had gone to the Yale Club. Who would ever let me in the Yale Club? But nobody was showing up that night. There were six candidates running for the Republican nomination at that time, and George Pataki was the mayor of Peekskill, went on to become State Senator. Nobody knew who he was; a person of no consequence. It was the day I got fired from WABC with my wife, Lisa, at the time, so I couldn’t have been more doom and gloom. And I went there because I had known about George Pataki, what he did in Peekskill, and I gave this rousing speech to eight people, seven of whom were his immediate relatives. And I stuck with him throughout the campaign. And then my very dear goombata cicci stuck the shiv in my back. Judas. Rudy Giuliani, because of his hate—and rightfully so—for Alfonse “Allie Boy” D’Amato, who would kiss a mobster, [Phillip] Basile, in federal court and give him the seal of approval of a U.S. Senator and then call Rudy and say, “Can you do something?” And Rudy would say, “What? Are you out of your mind?” But anyway, the hate got so bitter, that because D’Amato was promoting Pataki. Pataki, who? Zippy the Chimp could have been running. People just hated, despised Mario because of his arrogance. And remember his wartime consigliere at the time was Andrew “Evil Eyes” Cuomo. He was playing the role of [Joe] Percoco now. He wasn’t Tom Hagen. He was the wartime consigliere. And they convinced Rudy to jump over the Maginot. And I remember I was in Flatbush, right near Midwood, and there was Noach Dear on a float with Mario and Andrew and Rudy and they were all hugging, and I wanted to vomit. I wanted to impale myself. And I went out and I campaigned for Pataki and that was actually the best thing that ever happened for Pataki, because the moment Giuliani went upstate, he couldn’t even leave the local airports. The Republicans who had been morbid, who had been cadavers in formaldehyde, came out, renewed their voting registration cards. I think Revolutionary War veterans emerged out of their crypts and voted Mario out. But the arrogance! And then, naturally, the son—like father, like son, as much as they clash.

So, Andrew, I always had a problem [with], because Andrew had this anger management problem. Now a lot of politicians have anger management problems. Anthony “The Whiner” Weiner, Curtis Sliwa—they left me back in kindergarten in Ozone Park, because I buried a kid in the sandbox, they didn’t have the term “anger management problem,” but I hated this supreme cugine, this gavone, who was picking on girls, so I buried him in the sandbox and they told my mother who was biting her knuckles at the time, “You gotta transfer him out. Take him to a Catholic school. The nuns will straighten him out.” And she did. But the point is, I understand that. And, Andrew, as you know, he went out, the arrogance against [Carl] McCall, he said things to Robert Kennedy, his brother-in-law at the time, that defied logic, when Kennedy said, “Oh, the greatest threat to America are pig farmers in Iowa, because of the feces that flows into the tributaries and rivers,” and Andrew was like “I can’t believe I’m nodding my head. More dangerous to us than Osama Bin Ladin after 9/11.” And then calling Pataki a “coat holder.” Because I was broadcasting from WABC, I saw all the state people in the Hotel Pennsylvania right here. Pataki put aside his differences with Giuliani. They truly hated one another, but they did things together after 9/11. So I held it against Andrew.

And then Andrew went on his mea culpa tour and he met with me at The Guardian Angels headquarters at that time at 46th and 8th, and he was listening. He was on his listening tool. And he did. He listened for 44 minutes of a 46-minute conversation, and I dominated the 44 minutes. And I said, “You’re getting spun by these street activists. Andrew, they’re gonna look at you like some dopey white boy from Jamaica Estates. Look, I know you played stickball in Jamaica Estates. Please, what did you have? A platinum stickball bat, a platinum Spalding? You’re no street guy. And although you have the pedigree because of Mario, they’re gonna spin you, man.” But he hooked up with Russell Simmons at the time, and Sharpton, and that whole cabal. Okay, so he didn’t take my advice. But at least he was showing some humility.

But there is this nature about Andrew in which, unlike this conversation—off-the-record conversation, he won’t ever appear on NY1. In all the times, first with Dominic Carter and then Errol Louis, these guys are professional journalists, they’re fair, they know where all the bones are and who buried them, why would you not come on NY1, not once? Why would you not give interviews to other reporters? So, to me he’s like the Wizard of Oz. And I’ve been able to pull the curtain back and he looks like that because he recognizes that. And Percoco, his wartime consigliere, knows that, because he goes out there and he basically delivers the messages that Andrew used to deliver on his own. So I think there is an uncomfortability, and naturally the coup de grâce was when I showed up at the coronation at the Westchester Hilton. Remember, no competition in the primaries. He cleared the field. There wasn’t going to be a ’77 ever again, Mario versus all those candidates, the runoff with Koch. No, he had the clear field. How could you not have challengers in a primary? It’s like Scott Stringer, the mamaluke, the Manhattan Borough President. Not a challenger for comptroller? Not a Republican candidate? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.

But, remember, he had the coronation. And who showed up as King Cuomo with the crown, with the scepter, and I held a press conference. I walked into the media room and I was announcing my pronouncements of what life would be in CuomoLand, how all the serfs in the 62 fiefdoms of New York State would now be forced to pay more taxes because taxes are good. Everyone freaked because I walked right towards the main floor. And the troopers grabbed me and security grabbed me, and what was gonna be the front page of the New York Post? The coronation, the rebirth resurrection: He’s back! Andrew Cuomo! He’s governor, the legacy. It had a side bar of me being King Cuomo, and, you know, doing my Cuomo-esque things and, man, let’s face it, whatever hope there was of healing the rift, forget it! I threw gasoline on the fire. When you saw me being dragged out in handcuffs as King Cuomo. And then after they released me, everyone was still inside partying like it was 1999, with Prince, the artist whatever his name, and I stood out on the corner where all the cars had to pass and there I was ranting and raving like a crazy person with all the furniture upstairs rearranged in the wrong rooms, and the only one who stopped and had a good belly laugh—because everyone else was in dog face, you know, “You’ll pay for this, Sliwa. The Cuomos will never forgive you”—the only one who stopped was Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx Borough President. He rolls the window down, he was laughing uncontrollably. He said, “Sliwa, you are a corker! No one could ever do that and get away with it.”

They didn’t see it coming. And even though I’d talked about it on the radio, I said I would be going there as King Cuomo. Naw! There was no Percoco, because now anytime I get anywhere near Andrew, it’s like at the Salute to Israel Day Parade, I’m walking back, I was marching with Melinda, and as soon as I get anywhere near Cuomo, because he had this huge entourage, “How are you doing? How are you doing, Curtis?” You know, all of a sudden [Percoco’s] like Dennis Rodman used to be on defense, all over me … I can’t even move. And then all of a sudden, they welcome Melinda in. Melinda’s talking with the governor. I’m on the other side of the barricade, so I said, “Melinda, me!” Are you a Democrat? No. Well, then you have to stay on the outside. So they finally got their revenge. So the blood feuds continue. The political blood feuds continue until the day I die, because one thing about me, just like I am with the Gottis and the Gambinos and organized crime, it is very difficult for me to forgive, it is very difficult for me to forget. And remember, that’s the same ideology that many of them have, although they’re not as verbal about it.

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Morgan Pehme
20210615