Game Over for Catsimatidis?

Pity John Catsimatidis: As Michael Bloomberg prepares to meet with city Republican leaders to ask for a spot on the primary ballot, the grocery magnate‘s mayoral hopes may effectively be dashed.

Catsimatidis—like Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican billionaire—promoted himself over the past year as a savior for the cash-strapped Republicans. And even after Bloomberg pushed back term limits in order to run again, Catsimatidis still believed he could make a case for challenging the officially independent mayor as a Republican, vowing to press ahead.

(In January 2009, Catsimatidis loaned his mayoral campaign $1 million in order to “show everybody I am alive.” According to The New York Times, “Mr. Catsimatidis said that if he decided to run for mayor this fall, he would challenge Mr. Bloomberg in the Republican primary.” That is, “if” Catsimatidis decided to run.)

While the now-independent mayor was busy distancing himself from the party, the better to promote his fantasy presidential scenario, Catsimatidis was wooing local leaders with attention and support—he flew former Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani and county party chairmen to the Republican National Convention last year—and hiring people with party credentials, like Vince Tabone, a top Republican operative from Queens (the borough with the largest number of Republican voters) and Rob Ryan, who managed George Pataki’s campaign for governor and worked on Republican nominee John Spencer’s 2006 Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Theoretically, Catsimatidis should be in a better position to ask for support from the Republican county chairs than Bloomberg, given the very real resentment that exists toward the mayor for his high-profile abandonment of the party. The problem is that few Republicans seem to believe that Catsimatidis, in the end, will actually follow through. And by refusing to guarantee that he’s running, Catsimatidis hasn’t done much to assuage their doubts.

“Nobody believes in the underlying notion that Catsimatidis would take on Bloomberg,” one well-placed Republican told me.

“Maybe I underestimate in certain boroughs the disdain for the way the administration carried themselves for the last four years,” the Republican said. However, the most likely result of that disdain would not be that Republicans deny Bloomberg the nomination, according to the source, but merely that it makes the nomination “a little pricier.”

After an interview earlier this month on New York 1 News, political anchor Dominic Carter told viewers that Catsimatidis “wouldn’t guarantee that he would challenge Bloomberg in a GOP primary.”

Catsimatidis’ best hope at this point, theoretically, is that Bloomberg fails to get the requisite three of the five county chairman he needs to get on the ballot. But at this point, given the practical considerations involved, it seems unlikely.

While the chairmen would likely get lots of hearty congratulations from the rank-and-file if they turned down Bloomberg’s pleas and largesse—see comments here and here and here (and here) [UPDATE: and the comments below this post] for an idea of the way sentiment seem to be going at the moment—they will doubtless feel pressure from some of the powerful establishment figures who are pulling for a rapprochement with the mayor.

In Queens, for example, county party chair Phil Ragusa has been angered by Bloomberg’s complete lack of outreach to him or local Republicans. But the last remaining Republican elected official in that borough, Padavan, now finds himself in the minority conference after 30 years in office. And after narrowly winning reelection, Padavan needs to find a way to keep delivering for his district—which is getting more Democratic by the day—and without the perks of being in the majority conference, that new pipeline of resources may be City Hall.

(“I don’t know anyone out there in either party—any candidate—who has that capacity,” Padavan said when asked about Bloomberg’s financial and governing experience.)

In Brooklyn, party chair Craig Eaton is liked and well respected, but much of the clout is with Marty Golden, a former councilman now in the State Senate. Like Padavan, he is now the minority and needs, more than ever, to rely on his relationship with a friendly administration in City Hall. (Golden said the decision to back Bloomberg is a “no-brainer.”)

In Staten Island, John Friscia is the county chair, but few doubt that former Representative Vito Fossella still holds an incredible amount of sway in what the organization does. When Fossella had a farewell breakfast, Bloomberg was there and Fossella told reporters he’s supporting Bloomberg for reelection. And so on.

Catsimatidis declined to comment.

UPDATE: Catsimatidis spokesman Rob Ryan emailed to say, “All the high paid consultants and career politicians don’t seem to get it. New York City Republicans are fed up and they want lower taxes, less spending and less red tape, that’s why they are supporting John Catsimatidis. That’s why he’ll be the Republican nominee.”

Game Over for Catsimatidis?