Photo Credit: CUrtis Sliwa
Curtis Sliwa speaking to press at event.

Marc Gronich: You’re a character but in a good way. First of all I was wondering how your health is. We always ask about health because that’s the most important thing.

Curtis Sliwa: Luckily, you know, I had terrible bouts with health issues over the years. In [June 19,] 1992 I was shot with five hollow point bullets on the orders of John Gotti, Sr., John Gotti, Jr. and the Gambinos. That certainly took its toll physically. In 2012, I had stage 4 prostate cancer. That took its toll.

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The worst was because of being shot five times in 1992, the surgeons who repaired the damage told me this is just a patch job. They said, Curtis, in 20 years you are going to have gastronomical problems. You’re going to have problems in your stomach. I said what are you talking about? I became a competitive eater to prove the doctors wrong. It didn’t matter. Almost 20 years to the day, I felt a pain on my left side, my ileum [the last part of the small intestine that joins the large intestine]. I was diagnosed with ileitis. Then my colon, colitis. Then the big one, chronic Crohn’s disease.

I have to tell you, I would rather be shot five times again then the way I suffered with Crohn’s disease for three years. I went from 220 pounds and healthy, down to 140 pounds. I was skin and bones. They had me on Fentanyl as well as Oxycodone for the pain. It was unbelievable. If not for my wife Nancy, to nurse me through this and then an eight-and-a-half hour operation at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital I wouldn’t have lasted. There was no way. Then naturally you become addicted to those painkillers so you have to shake that problem. I’ve had quite a physical ordeal but luckily none of it is affecting it now.

What’s your weight now?

My weight is up to 200. I’m in good physical shape. Without my wife, I’d be gone. I’d be dead.

Would you say Andrew Cuomo’s just dessert was his resignation?

You look at the history – we had Spitzer who had to leave in disgrace. Paterson had his problems. Schneiderman, the attorney general, had his problems. Hevesi, Cuomo, Weiner. I say to people and you want to keep voting Democrat, really? The best 20 years we had in the city were with Republican mayors – eight years Giuliani, 12 years Bloomberg. 12 great years as governor, George Pataki. No scandal whatsoever. And you want to keep electing Democrats. And now you want to elect Eric Adams who embraced Cuomo, embraced de Blasio. So all you’re going to get is Cuomo, de Blasio 2.0 with Eric Adams. When are you going to learn, voters? When are you going to learn?

When he was lieutenant governor, Mario Cuomo once said, “They [the Guardian Angels] are a better expression of morality than our city deserves.”

The problem was, you had some cities with major crime problems, including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, but you had resistance from municipal leaders and state legislators who were vilifying us and joining mayors in those communities trying to vilify us. So I went up to Albany to lobby the legislators because they had nothing to do. They’re hanging around bars on Lark Street [in Albany near the Capitol]. Albany created an outward place where state legislators could meet with me in anonymity and they didn’t have to answer to their constituents because nobody knew. I would find them [the legislators], talk to them and they would realize that I wasn’t a bad guy. I wasn’t a Hell’s Angels leader like they were trying to paint me out to be.

At the same time Al Sharpton was coming into his own and he had his problems with the Tawana Brawley case in 1987 in Poughkeepsie.

It was interesting because here was Al Sharpton at that time and he would constantly go to Poughkeepsie and Albany with [C. Vernon] Mason and [Alton] Maddox. They were the three stooges – and Eric Adams. People don’t remember that. Eric Adams would come up regularly with the delegation from Brooklyn to support Al Sharpton. He [Eric Adams] was a supporter of Tawana Brawley at that time – as was Mike Tyson, as was Bill Cosby, as were others. Whether he was fooled or tricked, I doubt it.

Once again you were on the opposite side with Eric Adams.

Eric Adams said he wants to role model his mayoralty after David Dinkins. I said no, no, not me. I want Rudy Giuliani to be my role model. So it’s a clear choice. I’ll never forget [Rev. Louis] Farrakhan [in 1992] was coming to speak at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. David Dinkins was being asked, “Are you going to denounce this anti-Semite?” Eric Adams, who at the time was head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement publicly, said, “Dinkins, do not condemn Farrakhan or we’ll support Giuliani against you.” That was a bluff. There was no way they were going to support Giuliani who had already denounced Farrakhan himself. To his credit Dinkins denounced Farrakhan.

At that point in Eric Adams’s life he was surrounded by the Nation of Islam, he supported Farrakhan and he claimed it was because they had the civilian patrols in high crime areas. No, no, no, what are you going to do? Support Nazis because they bring law and order to an area?

More importantly he [Adams] would be publicly seen with them [Farrakhan and Nation of Islam leaders] when he tried to run against [Congressman] Major Owens who had the support of the Jewish community in Crown Heights. Eric Adams used members of the Nation of Islam to collect signatures [on his petition]. He didn’t get enough signatures to qualify but he was going to challenge Major Owens in that congressional primary run. Nowadays he’s not surrounded by the Nation of Islam, but he should have to answer for that and nobody asks him that question.

If you don’t feed the reporters the pablum, many don’t go out and investigate.

On WABC I was listening to the morning show and Dov Hikind was on. Dov was saying Eric Adams was involved with Farrakhan in the past and I’m going to expose it. I said “Wow” at least Dov Hikind is speaking out about it because other Jewish leaders were quiet. Then, nothing more from Dov Hikind. Sid Rosenberg, the morning show co-host, called Hikind to ask him back on the air, he said, “Oh I met with Eric Adams so let bygones be bygones.” I said, “This is Farrakhan, not some local yokel minister. This is Louis Farrakhan.” I don’t know what conversation Dov had with Eric Adams. I know they were friends when they served in Albany [Hikind in the Assembly and Adams in the Senate.] Still, to come out and say you were going to reveal information about Farrakhan and Eric Adams and then go quiet. Why? It’s public information. It’s out there. It’s not like you discovered something that nobody knew.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this up. Agudath Israel of America put out a news release in 2018 condemning you for berating the chasidim, saying that you were hurling age-old misrepresentations and distortions Jews-haters have used for centuries. They say that you expressed disdain for Jews who donate to political candidates, you derided able bodied men who studied “Torah and Talmud all day and we subsidize them. And then all they do is make babies like there is no tomorrow…. Why don’t they vote like normal Americans?… If somebody comes in and tries to take over your community lock, stock, and barrel and break all the rules and expect the tax dollars to go to their community, and they’re taking away from you, and their kids aren’t even being serviced in the public schools, but they want all the money in the public schools to go to the yeshivas…”

Why did you say all that when you claim to be close to the Orthodox and chasidic Jewish community?

It’s all public. I said it in 2018 when I was the New York State Chairman of the Reform Party. We had major battles in Orange and Rockland counties. They had this huge bloc vote coming out of Kiryas Joel. Huge! I actually went to Kiryas Joel. They were pressuring people who joined the New York State Reform Party who were Orthodox not to be involved. It was a political war and I lost the war. I was out-maneuvered. Their candidates won. My candidates did not win and I went on this one tirade. I was totally wrong, Absolutely! I’ve never said it since. I should never have used that language. Most of it should not have been said. I said what I said. It was wrong.

I have defined who I am by what I do. Do I make mistakes? Of course. Have I said things over the years that offended people, all people, Jews and gentiles? If I could take it back would I have taken it back? Of course. To label me an anti-Semite at the start of a campaign when you knew that I was out there in 2018 and I have dealt with it. It’s not like I ignored it or hid. I meant every word that I said. To drop it on me again in 2021 – obviously it’s part of a political campaign and I’m a big boy. I realize that you are responsible for the things you say in life.

I just say to Jewish leaders and The Jewish Press. Why has there been no questioning of Eric Adams, who for about five years in which he was like in love with Farrakhan? He would appear on the stage, he would go to the rallies, the local ministers at the local Nation of Islam temples would appear with him. He spoke on behalf of Farrakhan. Do they have amnesia? Are they suffering dementia and Alzheimer’s too?

They [Jewish leaders] met with Eric Adams and they have agreements on certain topics and they overlooked that [his past involvements]. They didn’t overlook me [my comments] from 2018. The inquisitors asked me questions that needed to be asked, and why isn’t Eric Adams being asked the same questions. Guess what? I have two debates against him. The moderators are going to try to shout me down, “Mr. Sliwa, it’s not relevant. Control yourself.” I’m going to force him to answer that question and go on record.

I continued to do the work I’m doing in the interim and then there were the Chanukah attacks close to three years ago. We responded in all the neighborhoods. The attacks on the synagogues in Riverdale and we responded. So when this resurfaced [the tirade] it certainly injured me. I continue to visit the neighborhoods and I seem to find that people understand but the leaders had already made their decision. They were supporting Eric Adams. I had meetings with some of them. They understood my history of always being there for the Jewish community. I can acknowledge when I am wrong, which I have in many things in my life – but you use the term “anti-Semite” against me, which is a scarlet letter.

What you have to realize is I have two sons who are being raised as Jews and on one visitation that I had with my son Carter who just had his bar mitzvah that I attended, he asked me, “Daddy why do they call you an anti-Semite?” I don’t believe the people who call me an anti-Semite even thought about that, although they knew I had two Jewish sons with Melinda Katz who is the Queens District Attorney. How do I explain that to my son? Luckily, the leaders in the synagogue that they go to did an intervention and said, “No, no, no.” Boys, you need to know the history of your father and the Guardian Angels and they cited Crown Heights and the [30th] anniversary [August 19].

What are the ages of your three kids?

Anthony, my oldest, he’s being raised by Mary and her husband, who is now former Governor David Paterson. He’s 17. Carter, he’s 13. He just had his bar mitzvah. Hunter is 9. Those are the two sons I had with Melinda Katz. All three were in vitro.

Now, back to what I was saying, at an event remembering the Crown Heights riots and the 30th anniversary, Rabbi Shea Hecht broke ranks and said I know we’re not supposed to discuss politics, I know we’re not supposed to talk about choosing someone for mayor or even other political offices, but I would be remiss if I did not talk about how the Guardian Angels and Curtis Sliwa were the only ones here for us. Not the police, not Dinkins, not any of the other Jewish leaders, not the gentiles. The Guardian Angels spent 30 days and 30 nights on the corner of Kingston [Avenue] and President [Street]. The entire audience applauded. The Lubavitchers will never forget it.

In fact, when I went to a sermon on a Sunday at 770, [Rabbi] Menachem [Mendel] Schneerson, z”l, was giving the sermon and afterwards the people lined up for the rebbe dollars. When I came up to him, he gave me two rebbe dollars. When I was shot soon after, five times by the Gottis and Gambinos on June 19, 1992, this was a little less than a year later – when they [medical personnel] took from me my wallet, the wallet was bloodied except for the two rebbe dollars.

Can you repair your image between now and Election Day? Can you change the perception that people in the Jewish community might have of you because a lot of people died in 30 years, a lot of people may not remember, they have short memories.

There’s no question. The things that exist now other than traditional newspapers, there is the WhatsApp and information gets transferred with lightning speed on that and some other social networking sites that chasidic and Orthodox Jews use to get their information. Every time I’ve gone back into the community which I do a lot in Crown Heights, Borough Park, Williamsburg, the Bukharians in Kew Gardens Hills, those areas, I haven’t gotten blow back from the people. Now the people do come up and they ask me, “Hey, Curtis, I saw that video. What did they do? Is that you?” Absolutely. I made a mistake.

 

[T]hose calling Curtis Sliwa an anti-Semite…I look at them and I say, yeah, in Crown Heights where were all the people who condemned me? The Chanukah attacks, where were they? Riverdale – and I just cite all the places I’ve been protecting Jews.

Today we continue to patrol the area of Avenue K and New York Avenue in Flatbush where that young man who was mentally impaired would come to shul to make the coffee for the minyan and he was viciously attacked by two Black perpetrators of which no one has been arrested. Eric Adams never showed up and that’s Brooklyn. Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels not only showed up but we continue to patrol that area. We also offered a reward for the capture and indictment of the two who were responsible for that attack. The Orthodox and the chasidim who are on the streets know what the Guardian Angels have done because we’ve been there for more than 30 years. Always there at rallies for anti-Semitism, I’ve always been a prominent speaker.

Today, it was announced that I qualified and [my mayoral campaign] will get $2.6 million in [government] matching funds [to spend on the election]. Before this I didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

I’m told you have a net worth of $500,000. Is that accurate?

I have nothing. Remember, I pay child support. Eighty percent of my net goes right out the door. I live in a 328-square foot apartment on the Upper West Side. If tomorrow I died, I would be buried in a cardboard box in Potter’s Field or on Hart Island. I owe lawyers so much for all the domestic issues I had, which were all of my own making. I’m responsible.

You should look at celebritynetworth.com because they have your net worth listed as $500,000.

I think they were going based on what I was being paid at WABC, which was $400,000 a year. Remember, there’s taxes, you can’t deduct child support. So start figuring it out from there. I owe lawyers. I’m lucky that my wife is an attorney because before that I was sleeping on the floor at WABC.

You came from the floor to the Upper West Side. You have that charm and that certain thing going for you.

People in life have had greater problems then I’ve ever had. I always look to my father and mother, because I am their son and I am who I am because of them. Those are my role models. I only wish that everyone could have role models like my father and mother. It would be a much better world.

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.