Wanted: GOP Mayoral Hopeful With Vague Conservative Impulses, Massive Personal Wealth a Plus

The candidate on many Republican lips is businessman John Catsimatidis, a supermarket magnate who owns the Gristedes chain in New York City. Earlier this year, Mr. Catsimatidis was ranked as the 132nd richest person in America by Forbes, and, with a net worth of $3 billion, he could easily finance a mayoral campaign himself. But while confident in his abilities, Mr. Catsimatidis isn’t exactly chomping at the bit.

“If we end up with nobody, I might consider it, yes,” he said last week. “It’s just a lot work and a lot of dedication that goes into it. Can I do the job? I could do the job with my left pinkie.”

Mr. Catsimatidis expressed hope somebody else, perhaps Mr. Kelly—or at least some wealthy individual—will run instead.

“If you talk about candidates for mayor with no money, it’s like a joke! You guys want to fool around with a bunch of guys with no ability to run, you can do that!” he exclaimed. “When you’re running in a mayor race in New York City, either you have to have name recognition like Ray Kelly, or you have to have somebody who has enough money that they can get name recognition.”

The grocery tycoon, who said he was “trying to be as optimistic as I can” that a credible alternative would step up to the plate, described what he felt were the dire consequences if one of the Democratic candidates ended up winning next year. “They’re nice people, but would you trust them with a $70 billion budget? One of the things that nobody looks at, but one of the reasons that New York City has been successful in getting international capital, money from Europe, from Russia, the Middle East, Asia—they have confidence in Bloomberg’s ability to manage the city and they have confidence in Ray Kelly’s ability to keep the city safe. I’m concerned that if you have a minor league player, that the capital will dry up.”

However, Mr. Catsimatidis said, there is still plenty of time. “There’s no deadline; you can jump in February, March and April,” he said. But with the State Legislature actively considering moving the 2013 primary date from September to June so that the city’s slow-moving Board of Elections has enough time to schedule a runoff election, candidates may have to start collecting signatures by March in order to land a spot on the ballot. Meanwhile, every day on the calendar provides an opportunity to build name recognition and construct an effective campaign operation, and the clock is ticking.

“You’d like to have some clarity to this by the end of the calendar year, or by the end of winter,” one Republican consultant said. “I don’t really see anybody that has any ability to do that today. But it’s still relatively early, so hopefully by post-holidays you’ll start to see more seriousness.”

Jerry Kassar, the chairman of Brooklyn’s Conservative Party, concurred. “They really have to have this thing decided by the first week of February; they’re going to have to have petitions on the street by early March,” he argued, while conceding a later primary date would allow another month or so to find a candidate. “There’s no advantage to drag this thing out. The Republican Party needs to have made up their mind; there’s a lot of work ahead.”

As for the likely suspects, he added, “I guess right now, George from the Doe Fund does not seem have taken off, as far as I can tell. I don’t believe he’s picked up much strength. I don’t believe Senator Smith is at all being taken seriously in Republican circles. I do think Catsimatidis remains available to them in the event that they feel Allon is not philosophically workable, or can’t bring enough resources to make it a race.”

Regardless of whom they choose, the party’s leaders have stated that they only want one candidate running, with no primary contest to divert their attention from the grand prize. “This race is too important,” Chairman Eaton explained. “We need to find the candidate that’s going to win. If one of the people who have expressed interest in running, if there’s a consensus that there’s another candidate [who] has a superior chance of winning—I think the other candidates need to look and say, ‘It’s about the party; we need to step aside and look at other opportunities.’”

Mr. McDonald, at least, might be willing to heed such a call, depending on the other candidate’s credentials. “As far as I’m concerned, I think I would make a better mayor than any of the folks who are running,” he said to explain his mayoral aspirations. When we asked if he would drop out if he felt another candidate was more capable, Mr. McDonald quickly replied, “In a New York minute. I don’t covet the job.”

Mr. Allon, however, has said he’s in it for the long-haul, guaranteeing a Republican primary should the party’s leaders decide on somebody else. “I’m going to primary anybody who comes up,” he told The Observer when he announced his party switch. “You can’t jump in late and expect other people are going to cower.”

For their part, Democrats certainly aren’t cowering from their eventual Republican opponent, sarcastically nicknamed “billionaire yet to be named” by at least one of the 2013 candidates’ operatives. Although candidates running on the GOP line have held onto City Hall for two decades, next year could be the party’s greatest challenge yet. According to the unofficial results from this year’s presidential election, President Barack Obama received over 80 percent of the vote against Mitt Romney in the five boroughs—an increase from when he ran in 2008—and two-thirds of the city’s voters are now registered Democrats.

Outside of an education rally a few weeks ago, we asked one potential Democratic candidate for mayor, Comptroller John Liu, what he thought of the Republican field so far.

“I’m quaking in my boots,” he joked.