Up until now, Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald’s strategy has been simple: letting his better-known challengers batter each other to a bloody pulp until voters–desperate for a better option, he hopes–come crawling over to the neutral third party.
But last night, viewers of the mayoral election’s first televised Republican debate, which aired on NY1, saw Mr. McDonald come out swinging, hurling one shot after the next against his new target: billionaire supermarket and oil magnate, John Catsimatidis.
Mr. McDonald was relentless in his criticism of his opponent, lobbing charges at Mr. Catsimatidis on television as his team peppered reporters with “Catsimatidis Fact Check” emails. But he may have overreached when he accused Mr. Catsimatidis of “mafia”-style threats on his life because Mr. Catsimatidis had once said he expected Mr. McDonald would “disappear” from the race.
“Was that a threat?” asked Mr. McDonald during a section where candidates were invited to ask each other questions.
“Please, George. George, we’ve been friends for 25, 30 years,” answered an incredulous-sounding Mr. Catsimatidis.
But Mr. McDonald interjected: “I beg to differ with you about the friendship part,” he said, arguing that Mr. Catsimatid’s role holding his mortgage did not make the two men friends.
“A least you had a mortgage. At that time, you couldn’t get a mortgage if you put a gold bar as collateral, George,” Mr. Catsimatidis fired back.
But McDonald kept pressing.
“That sounds like a mafia thing, making me ‘disappear,’” he declared. “What is that? That’s the way the mayor of the City of New York talks about people?”
Mr. Catsimatidis later dismissed the talk, saying he’d never made any threat.
The comments Mr. McDonald was referring to in fact came during an interview with radio host Curtis Sliwa, as the two were discussing the likelihood of a Republican primary runoff. Mr. Catismatidis is polling in a strong second place, only behind former MTA Chair Joe Lhota, and briefly shrugged off Mr. McDonald’s ability to make an impact, given his bare-bones campaign war chest.
“I think George McDonald really disappears,” Mr. Catisimatidis said. “I’m not sure he’s gonna have enough signatures to continue or enough money. He’s a nice man. But I think we just have to see what happens.”
Mr. Catsimatidis’s spokesman Rob Ryan later said the shot was a sign of desperation from the McDonald campaign, telling Politicker that he was “creating an issue so he can stay in the race. It’s sad.”
Mr. McDonald’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.