Stunts, cats and crime: Sliwa's colorful run for NYC mayor (2024)

NEW YORK (AP) — Wearing his signature red beret, Curtis Sliwa is on television, stroking one of his 16 rescue cats in a campaign ad. He’s in the subway with his Guardian Angels anti-crime patrol. He’s breaking up restaurant brawls in Little Italy and blaming the mafia and the mayor when he’s banned from judging the meatball-eating contest.

This is the how Republican nominee is mounting an improbable quest to become New York City’s mayor — always in his red hat.

Sliwa has spent decades as a stunt-loving New York character, with a knack for keeping news cameras around and a history of bombastic statements. He once survived an attempted mob hit incited by his radio commentary.

The Republican insists his campaign this year is not a long shot, but more of a David-and-Goliath slingshot, with Sliwa as a streetwise “man of the people” speaking out about crime and disorder.

“I’m the only Republican who can go into neighborhoods where the only Republican they’ve ever seen is Abraham Lincoln on a $5 bill and be well-received,” Sliwa told The Associated Press this week in an interview at his cat-filled apartment.

“I think most people don’t necessarily see me as a Republican. They see me more as a populist. ‘That’s Curtis. We know him,’” Sliwa said. He says the fact that he won the Republican nomination despite having never voted for Trump is a sign he can improbably win over Democrats.

At a campaign rally later that day, he dismissed the idea that winning was impossible, saying he’s “been David versus Goliath” his entire life.

Sliwa is widely expected to lose next month’s election to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Democrat and former New York City police captain who would be the city’s second Black mayor.

In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1, Adams emerged from a crowded primary field as the candidate with a more moderate image, a pro-business approach and singular perspective on crime that blended his time with the NYPD, his past advocacy calling for reform in the department and experiences of police brutality while a teenager.

Sliwa, 67, has been a ubiquitous New York figure since he founded the Guardian Angels anti-crime group in 1979. The unarmed unit of young men and women clad in red berets and matching jackets started by patrolling New York City’s then-crime-plagued subway system and expanded out into the city before setting up chapters across the U.S.

The 320-square foot Upper West Side apartment that Sliwa shares with his wife Nancy is decorated with copious campaign posters and images of himself and their many cats. Part of one wall is covered with old newspaper clippings and posters of the Guardian Angels’ early exploits, a sign that reads “Crack Down on Crack” and a few police sketches of decades-old rape suspects.

He says the tableau is a reminder of the group’s roots in a grittier New York.

“His analysis of New York is, in some ways, very antiquated and I think a lot of voters see him as a vestige of old New York, with his red beret and I would say racialized understanding of how the city operates, which I don’t think many New Yorkers are interested in right now,” said Christina Greer, an associate professor of Political Science at Fordham University.

Sliwa won the Republican primary earlier this year after defeating restauranteur Fernando Mateo.

Two decades of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in the mayor’s office prove Republicans can — or at least once could — overcome the Democrats’ advantage in the city.

But Sliwa’s style and reputation, Greer said, has meant that he is “not really taken seriously by a certain segment of the population.”

Sliwa’s flair for getting attention turned deadly serious in 1992 when he was shot after using his radio talk show to pillory the mob boss John Gotti. He escaped his would-be assassins by diving out a car window.

He confessed after the real attack that he had in the past concocted stories about the Guardian Angels’ feats, including foiling a rape and a fake story about Sliwa being kidnapped by Transit Authority police officers.

After making lewd and racist remarks on television and the radio about the leader of the City Council, he was briefly barred from a regular spot on a local television debate show. Sliwa later apologized for his comments.

Last summer, when Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio banned swimming at the city’s beaches in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Sliwa staged a protest at Coney Island, first by sticking a cardboard cutout of de Blasio’s face on the beach and kicking sand on it. He then swam for about an hour, in a wetsuit and his red beret, ignoring the orders of city parks officers to get out of the water.

As a mayoral candidate, he has been true to form.

Sliwa holds near-daily news conferences around the city, often at day-old crime scenes where he decries the city’s failed leadership. At one shooting not far from his apartment, he laid on his belly in the street, searching for a “smoking gun” under a car while television cameras rolled.

His campaign released videos purporting to show Sliwa and his Guardian Angels streaming into a Little Italy restaurant to separate and restrain unruly patrons.

Sliwa dismisses Adams as being out-of-touch and removed from the streets, and has hammered him for reports he vacationed in Monaco and held fundraisers in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard. He jumped on news reports questioning whether Adams really lives at his Brooklyn brownstone, walking across a bridge to Fort Lee, New Jersey holding a milk carton with the face of “missing” Adams.

Adams, meanwhile, has largely disregarded Sliwa.

“It’s challenging for me to engage in a conversation with a person who acknowledged that they made up stories about crimes,” and is “doing antics every day,” Adams said in a recent radio interview.

“We’re going to have to endure the antics of a person that thinks that this is a circus for the four weeks, and I’m going to tolerate it because that’s the process,” Adams told WNYC. “But can we take Curtis Sliwa serious on anything, based on his history in this city?”

Stunts, cats and crime: Sliwa's colorful run for NYC mayor (2024)


Was Curtis Sliwa shot? ›

Jurors later told reporters they believed he had a role in Sliwa's shooting. Prosecutors declined to re-try Gotti and dismissed the charges against him. Sliwa said he would seek damages in civil court. Michael Yannotti, a Gotti associate, was also charged with shooting Sliwa in the incident but was acquitted.

Is Lisa Evers still married to Curtis Sliwa? ›

Guardian Angels

At that time she was married to its founder, Curtis Sliwa; was known as Lisa Sliwa; and worked as a model with Elite Model Management in New York City and Paris. With Sliwa, she co-hosted a talk radio show on WABC-AM in New York City that ended shortly before their divorce.

Are the Guardian Angels still active? ›

The Angels are still around, patrolling the streets and offering a community presence. Their numbers might not be what they used to be, but they're out there, still daring to care (that's their motto, by the way).

How do I contact Curtis Sliwa? ›

How to contact Curtis Sliwa? To contact Curtis Sliwa send an email at or you want to call Curtis Sliwa try calling on +1.9177346999 and +1.2129139681.

What nationality is Sliwa? ›

Was Melinda Katz married to Curtis Sliwa? ›

Personal life. Katz was in a relationship with Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, and separated from him in 2014; they have two children together, conceived in vitro over the previous five years.

What is the Guardian Angels controversy? ›

The Guardian Angels have been a fixture in New York City since 1979, when Sliwa founded the group to patrol the streets and subways during the city's high-crime days. Members have drawn criticism, including allegations of targeting people of color.

Does Curtis Sliwa have a podcast? ›

Stream Curtis Sliwa | Listen to podcast episodes online for free on SoundCloud.

When did Curtis Sliwa start the Guardian Angels? ›

The Guardian Angels is a non-profit international volunteer organization with the goal of unarmed crime prevention. The Guardian Angels organization was founded on February 13, 1979, in New York City by Curtis Sliwa. Since then, it has expanded to more than 130 cities and 13 countries worldwide.

Do Guardian Angels get paid? ›

The average Guardian Angel hourly pay ranges from approximately $18 per hour (estimate) for an In Home Caregiver to $45 per hour (estimate) for a Database Administrator.

What's the difference between an angel and a guardian angel? ›

A guardian angel is a type of angel that is assigned to protect and guide a particular person, group or nation. Belief in tutelary beings can be traced throughout all antiquity. The idea of angels that guard over people played a major role in Ancient Judaism.

What does the Bible say about Guardian Angels? ›

In the Old Testament, there are numerous examples of angels of the Lord that are sent to guard and protect humanity. The Psalmist proclaims in Psalm 91: “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

What is the guardian angel prayer? ›

Angel of God, my guardian dear, To whom God's love commits me here, Ever this day, be at my side, To light and guard, Rule and guide. Amen.

How many Guardian Angels are in NYC? ›

Here's the rub. The exact number is a bit of a mystery. The Guardian Angels themselves claim a membership in the hundreds, possibly even reaching 400 trained patrollers. But some folks, including the police, tend to take those numbers with a grain of salt.

Who is the founder of the Guardian Angels? ›

The GUARDIAN ANGELS were an organization of volunteers who patrolled areas of the city in an attempt to deter CRIME. Originally they were organized by Curtis Sliwa in New York City in 1979 as a citizens' group to reduce the high levels of crime in the New York subway system.


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