A Bronx man is running for mayor of New York City 17 years after he hijacked a plane at JFK Airport with a handgun and a knife and ordered the pilots to fly to Antarctica.
Aaron Commey is the Libertarian candidate for mayor and will be on the ballot in all five boroughs on Nov. 7. But on July 27, 2000, he was 22 years old and suffering from delusional disorder and paranoid schizophrenia when he walked onto a Boeing 757 bound for Las Vegas and rushed into the cockpit while brandishing a handgun.
Commey told the pilots to clear out the plane’s 150 passengers and crew members, according to reports from the time. He then remained in the plane for five hours while law enforcement and the pilots tried to negotiate. Commey asked, at different times, to be flown to Argentina or Antarctica.
He later explained that he had planned to parachute into Antarctica to destroy the “Cabal,” a secret organization that wanted to “take over the world through mass destruction.”
In the end, the plane never took off and nobody was injured, while Commey was arrested and charged with five crimes, including attempt to commit aircraft piracy.
In an interview with City & State this week, Commey admitted he didn’t have a typical candidate biography.
“It’s definitely a valid question … ‘Well, how can we trust you, when you’re this guy who tried to hijack a plane?’” he said. “I am not the same person that I was. I was definitely severely mentally ill. And in addition to recovering from my mental illness without medication, I am a completely different person in terms of how I approach situations and I’m committed to nonviolence.”
In September 2003, Commey was found not guilty on all counts by reason of insanity. But he would remain incarcerated in federal prison until his release in 2015. According to a legal filing, he was assigned to a medical center run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for treatment. In 2004 he was transferred to Federal Medical Center, Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, where former Rep. Anthony Weiner is scheduled to report next month to serve a 21-month sentence.
“I spent about 15 years in prison, was never convicted,” Commey said. “And it shaped me into the person I am today.”
Commey said that government officials and judges refused to let him go for years, despite having doctors say he had fully recovered. “Experiencing my own personal injustice, seeing injustice happen to other guys,” he said, “that’s one of the things that had driven me to wanting to get involved to try to change the system.”
It also turned him into a Libertarian. “It showed me a side of government a lot of people think of in the abstract, but feeling it up close and personal made it all that more real to me,” he said. “And there was really only one party I saw that was tackling that aspect of government.”
Commey is an extreme long shot in the mayor’s race. He has not been active on the campaign trail, and has raised almost no money, putting up about $2,300 of his own funds while getting just $495 from donors. He has not been included in any major polls. In 2013, Libertarian candidate Michael Sanchez got just 446 votes in the mayoral election, or 0.16 percent of the total.
Commey’s website, which includes both scenes of New York and videos of the Philadelphia skyline, does not go into detail about his past, but mentions “experience overcoming his own trials and tribulations with the justice system and mental health issues.”
The candidate’s unusual history has not been widely reported, but Commey had openly spoken about the hijacking attempt, his mental illness and incarceration in an interview with The Black Business School and Libertarian sources like Think Liberty TV and Lions of Liberty.
But as a mayoral candidate, the one-time air pirate thought his past would get more attention.
“I was shocked, because I expected this to be the first thing out the gate and like nobody said anything,” he said. “I’m like, wow, OK. I’ll tell the story when the opportunity arises, but I really thought people were going to have much more of a reaction to it.”