New York City is on the ropes and it is déjà vu all over again for Curtis Sliwa, 66, and his crime fighting red beret vigilantes.
Shootings were up by 127% for the month of September and the year-to-date murder rate has increased by 34%. With stores and small businesses shuttered, unemployment has swelled past 20%; and along with a mass exodus of New Yorkers headed for the hills and the suburbs – the Big Apple’s fabled skyline is now a vista of hallowed out office towers.
It’s all another day at the office for the bombastic, outspoken, Brooklyn born founder of the Guardian Angels. He’s been New York City’s cornerman ever since 1979 when he created the volunteer safety patrol group during a time when the Big Apple was dubbed ‘Fear City’ by law-enforcement from an unprecedented wave of violence that swept through the city.
But in July of this year, Sliwa found himself hitting the pavement in his own backyard, the Upper West Side, amid growing concern by locals who reported an uptick in crime since the city moved 730 homeless into makeshift shelters during the COVID-19 crises.
Since its founding over 40 years ago, the non-profit organization has spread to over 130 cities in 13 countries. In the process, Curtis Sliwa has been hailed as a hero and local legend for his rapid fire zingers as a shock jock host on talk radio that rails against everyone from progressive-liberal Democrats like A.O.C (whom he calls ‘All Out Crazy) to President Trump, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Cuomo and every other career politician, which he says are ‘fakes, phony, fraudulent, fugazis.’
Now Sliwa has his sight set on running for mayor in the 2021 election as a Republican. After four decades of patrolling the streets, Sliwa says he has the credibility, institutional knowledge and gunshot wounds (from when John Gotti ordered mob hit on his life) to prove his devotion to the City of New York.
Over the course of an evening while on patrol through the Upper West Side, the mayoral hopeful tells DailyMail.com exactly what he means when he says that he will give the city ‘a much needed colonic.’
Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels has formed a new unit comprised of 70 volunteers to patrol the Upper West Side of New York City amid growing concerns over hundreds of homeless that were recently moved into luxury neighborhood hotels by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Overflow from the makeshift shelters led to massive homeless encampments on the street and neighbors have reported ‘increasingly squalid conditions,’ brazen drug use, fights, public defecation, urination, masturbation, aggressive pan handling and harassment
The Guardian Angels perform a night patrol of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Calls to defund the police in BLM protests led to a $1billion cutback to the NYPD’s budget in June. Crime immediately skyrocketed by 177% in July, 166% in August and 76% in September ‘They’re not quick to respond’ said Sliwa. ‘And only if it’s the most serious crime do they respond, so all the quality of life issues that have disturbed the people here are not being addressed’
Valerie Clark, 47, (in the back) was one of the very first members to join the newly minted patrol group. As a divorced mother of two teenagers, she said she felt compelled to join when she ‘had several scary and unfortunate things happen’ to her
Curtis Sliwa was working at a night manager for a McDonalds in the Bronx in 1979 when he formed the Guardian Angels to patrol the city’s streets and subways during a time when NYC was dubbed ‘Fear City’ by law enforcement. Faced with bankruptcy, the city was forced to make budget cuts to law-enforcement and other social services which caused ‘total anarchy and lawlessness’ to ensue. At the time the subway was considered to be the most dangerous mass transit system in the world. Now Sliwa says that the city is faced with a similar crises with a $100billion debt
They meet nightly at 8pm across the street from the Dakota building on the corner of 72nd and Central Park West. On this particular evening in late September, there are 11 trainees, two patrol leaders and Curtis – the Guardian Angel godfather. They’ve done this everyday since mid-July, when local residents requested their help over a sudden spate of violence in the neighborhood.
‘The reason I chose this place to meet for the Upper West Side patrol is because this is where John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980 just one year after I started in ’79, that’s when crime was beginning to skyrocket and people realized the streets were not safe.’ What followed was a steady decline that only got worse, especially in the howling bowels of New York City’s subway system.
Guardian Angel recruitment has waxed and waned in the four decades since its first incarnation – rising to meet the demand during the ’80s where membership soared pass 1,000 volunteers and shrinking during the years Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg got tough on crime.
One might ask, why now? Especially in one of New York City’s toniest neighborhoods. The answer, to put it simply, is because law enforcement won’t.
New York City was already coming apart at the seams when the deadly coronavirus ravaged through its streets, indiscriminately killing 33,000 residents and leaving a 20% unemployment rate in its wake. Joblessness fuelled long-standing grievances that were ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the violent looting that followed proved to be the city’s coup de grace.
Calls to defund the police during nightly protests led Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash the NYPD’s budget by $1billion. As a result, overtime was taken away and several specialized units dedicated to street crime and homeless outreach were disbanded.
One month after the budget cuts took effect in July, shootings increased across all five boroughs by 177%, 166% in August and 127% in September.
Sliwa says NYPD’s attitude is, ‘You want to disband the police? Defund the police? Now you’ll get a little taste of what that’s like.’
Most complaints and calls go ignored. ‘Only if it’s the most serious crime do they respond, so all the quality of life issues that have disturbed the people here are not being addressed.’
In the process, quality of life in the Upper West Side took a catastrophic downturn this summer when the city turned three of the neighborhood’s luxury hotels (the Lucerne, the Belnord and the Belleclaire) into makeshift homeless shelters during the COVID-19 crises. 730 women and men – a handful of which were registered sex offenders, were moved into the neighborhood without notice or discussion nor social services to provide for them.
‘These men have strong emotional problems, mental health issues, alcohol addiction and drug addictions,’ explained Sliwa to DailyMail.com.
Overnight, residents of the area saw their upscale neighborhood change for the worse. Overflow from the shelters led to massive homeless encampments on the street. Neighbors reported ‘increasingly squalid conditions,’ brazen drug use, used needles on the sidewalk, fights, public defecation, urination, masturbation, aggressive pan handling and harassment.
In the first 15 weeks, there were 1,289 complaints called into the city’s 311 hotline compared to 539 in the 15 weeks prior and the police department said that drug-related complaints had risen more than 50% compared to the same period last year.
This is when the Guardian Angels stepped in.
Curtis Sliwa, a candidate for NYC Mayor in 2021 says his ability to connect with people sets him apart from other candidates. ‘I’m not afraid of people. I touch people. That’s the difference between me and them. They don’t trust people.’ He plans to take his campaign to the streets, he told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s not something you’re going to win on TV with advertisements or up in the suites getting wined, dined and pocket lined with donor checks. You really got to take it to the streets and I don’t know of anybody else who can do that – who has that same kind of credibility’
Curtis Sliwa (left) leads the Guardian Angels trainees on patrol through the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A trainee has to volunteer for a minimum of three months before they can ‘earn their colors.’ Currently there are multiple shifts patrolling the embattled neighborhood throughout the day, seven days a week
Guardian Leader, Daniel LaPointe debriefs his squad before embarking on patrol. They meet nightly at 8pm across the street from the Dakota building on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. ‘The reason I chose this place to meet for the Upper West Side patrol is because this is where John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980 just one year after I started in ’79, that’s when crime was beginning to skyrocket and people realized the streets were not safe,’ said Sliwa
Patrol leader, Daniel LaPointe inspects fellow members of the squad for weapons and drug paraphernalia at the beginning of every patrol. All Angels are unarmed- it’s a rule that Sliwa held steadfast since the very beginning. Sliwa told DailyMail.com: ‘I’ve seen too many tough guys on the street step on each other’s toes and then BANG! – One life vanquished, another serving 20 years in jail. All for one moment of insanity’
Curtis Sliwa gets searched for weapons at the beginning of patrol by one of his Guardian Angels. After surviving John Gotti Jr’s attempted mob hit in 1992, Sliwa says it would have been very easy for him to get a ‘permit to carry.’ But insists: ‘I don’t want one. I run an organization in which we don’t permit weapons. That would be very hypocritical’
The Guardian Angels patrol a subway station in the Upper West Side amid growing concern over the hundreds of homeless and ’emotionally disturbed’ that have moved into hotels throughout the neighborhood. Sliwa originally created the Guardian Angels in 1979 to protect the subways after city budget cuts caused the NYPD to cull transit patrol between 9pm-5am. ‘Back then, if you got on the subway dressed for church, by the time you got off, your sneakers, belt and jacket would be gone,’ said Milton Oliver, a veteran Angel
Patrol leader, Daniel LaPointe shows off broken glass on a parked car on Riverside Drive, it was one of many car robbiers that happened in the area since July
Milton Oliver, 53, a sensei who has worked with Sliwa since 1982 is in charge with training the newly minted unit of Guardian Angels in the Upper West Side. He teaches them martial arts, self-defense, deescalation and how to respond in various scenarios. Born in the South Bronx, Oliver remembers when his house was the only one standing in a three block radius that had been burned to the ground from arson and abandonment in the 1980s. He fears it can happen again: ‘When you see things like what’s happening here, it will end up like the Bronx was back then’
With no help from law enforcement, residents of the neighborhood turned to Curtis Sliwa for help. One particular resident caught him on patrol to express his gratitude: ‘I had the pleasure of meeting you on 79th Street a couple weeks ago,’ he said. ‘I asked, ‘Would you pay us a visit?’ and you did, so thank you.’
‘Well that’s what we’re all about,’ responded Sliwa. ‘You ask, we do!’
As the group readied themselves for a long night of crime watch, another local approached to file a request: ‘I’ve noticed 86th Street feels different,’ he said, ‘especially after 11’o clock.’ Milton Oliver, the patrol leader for the evening, clocks the lead and hands him a business card before the resident continues: ‘Thank you for your work man, we appreciate everything you do.’
Mob boss John Gotti’s failed kidnap and murder plot on Curtis Sliwa:
Curtis Sliwa was on the radio during John Gotti Sr.’s 1992 trial that saw him sentenced to three life sentences without parole. Never one to shy away from controversy, Sliwa denounced the infamous Gambino family crime boss on air as ‘public enemy no. 1.’
‘I grew up with those jadrools, those knuckle draggers,’ said Sliwa. ‘They’ll break your leg and stuff it in your pocket.’ Little did Sliwa know, that Gotti was allowed to tune in to the radio from his jail cell.
Outraged, Gotti Sr. ordered his son, John Gotti Jr. to take out a retaliatory hit on Sliwa for his radio attacks on the mob.
The first attempt was made in April 1992 when Sliwa was ambushed by three ‘thugs’ with baseball bats. He said: ‘I call it the UN squad, it was Michael McLaughlin, the Irish guy, Johnny Ruggiero, the Italian and Kaplin, the Jewish guy and they tuned me up with baseball bats.’ Sliwa survived but sustained a concussion and fractured elbow.
A few days later, Sliwa was back on the radio critiquing the mafia king, ‘And that’s when I revealed a murder that John Gotti Jr. had committed that my cousin from Howard beach told me about.’
After implicating John Gotti Jr. in a murder, a new plan was put in motion to, as Sliwa says, ‘shut me up for good.’
On June 19, 1992, Sliwa hailed a cab outside his apartment to head to his early morning radio show at WABC. As soon as the doors shut, a gunman hiding below the dashboard jumped out and ‘popped five hallow point bullets in me point blank, tore me up,’ said Sliwa. He was shot in the stomach and legs. ‘The driver was Joey d’Angelo from the Gambino crime family and the hit man was Michael Yannotti, who grew up blocks away from me in Canarsie.’
Sliwa survived by diving out the front window of the moving cab. (The door handles in the backseat had been previously sawed off and super-glued back on so he wouldn’t escape).
Ironically it was a Hells Angel, standing at a nearby payphone, who saved Sliwa’s life. ‘The meat wagon came and scraped me unconscious off the pavement. Then they put me in a body bag to Bellevue.’
Sliwa underwent emergency surgery and woke up several days later: ‘I came-to and the former mayor, my nemesis, Ed Koch was on my left. Cardinal O’Connor wearing extreme unction vestments and issuing my last rites was to my right. And then my wife at the time, Lisa, was staring at me thinking ‘sh**, I won’t be able to collect on that insurance policy today.”
The crime went unsolved for 12 years and people accused Sliwa of setting it up for publicity.
It wasn’t until Mikey ‘Scars’ DiLeonardo, a former Gambino capo turned FBI informant, admitted to authorities that he was responsible for planning the hit on at John Gotti Jr’s behest.
DiLeonardo revealed that he stalked Sliwa for days, and mapped his whereabouts before stealing a yellow cab and taking it to ‘the chop shop.’ In exchange for his cooperation, the FBI let DiLeonardo go on three previous murder charges in order to focus their investigation on Gotti Jr.
Eventually, in 2004, John Gotti Jr, Michael Yannotti and D’Angelo were all indicted in Sliwa’s kidnapping and attempted murder.
Since the Guardian Angels began patrolling in mid-July, they’ve acquired 70 new volunteers in the unarmed community crime watch unit. Valerie Clark, 47, a single mother-of-two was one of the first residents to join the newly minted patrol group.
At the beginning of every patrol, volunteers are asked to line up. Men on one side, women on the other. The leader peers into bags and checks for weapons and drug paraphernalia with a quick pat-down; then he or she will get checked in reverse.
All volunteers must be unarmed. It’s been a steadfast rule of the Guardian Angels since the very beginning. Even after Sliwa was shot five times in 1992, he refuses to carry a gun. ‘I don’t want one. I run an organization in which we don’t permit weapons. That would be very hypocritical.’
He believes guns create more safety problems than they solve. ‘It hypes up the machismo. It’s a male phallic symbol.’ He added, ‘I’ve seen too many tough guys on the street step on each other’s toes and then BANG! – One life vanquished, another serving 20 years in jail. All for one moment of insanity.’
For this reason, the Guardian Angels train their red berets in martial arts, self-defense and deescalation. Leading the charge is 53-year-old Milton Oliver, a sensei who has worked with Sliwa since 1982 when he lived in the South Bronx. ‘My building was the only one standing for three blocks, everything else was burned to the ground,’ he said, referring to the decade between 1970-1980 time when the borough lost 97% of their buildings to fire and abandonment. ‘We didn’t know if our building was going to be next. We slept with our clothes on in case we needed to evacuate quickly.’
‘Back then, if you got on the subway dressed for church, by the time you got off, your sneakers, belt and jacket would be gone,’ said Oliver. He fears it can happen again: ‘When you see things like what’s been happening recently here, it will end up like the Bronx was back then.’
Though the times have radically changed since New York was a crime-infested ‘war zone.’ Now Curtis says that for every one violent crime, they deal with ten medical issues. A typical night usually involves homeless outreach and managing the various crises that come from ‘the emotionally disturbed.’ Often times, they have not taken their psychiatric medication, and have spent all day drinking and drugging.
Unlike regular shelters, the makeshift homeless hotels in the Upper West Side do not run on a strict ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. Residents are required to walk through a metal detector to check for weapons but ‘if they have alcohol or drug paraphernalia, they are permitted to take it to their room.’
Some of them are eligible for Supplemental Security Income from the government. ‘They get their checks on the 1st and 15th. They go out, get their booze, their drugs, then go to their room and have a party,’ said Sliwa.
The Guardian Angels are trained to interpret the problems they come across on the street. Shootings are strictly police matters. ‘A lot of these men are OD’ing, or maybe we’ll come across someone with epilepsy and they’re having a fit and people get frightened so they run away.’ Sliwa says the Angels are better adept at handling the problem and deciding if they need to call for medical attention or 911.
‘We can have a calming effect. Whereas other people might freak out or misinterpret the situation as a threat to the community when really, they are not -they’re more a threat to themselves,’ said Sliwa.
The Angels march in two line formation, with a patrol leader in the front and back. ‘Almost like a two headed snake.’ It’s a strategy that he devised in the very beginning.
Each person is assigned a role while on patrol. In a tense situation, one person is required to take notes, while another is tasked with documenting it through photographs and film. If a physical fight needs to be broken up, one group will pull apart the two warring parties while the remaining angels form a barrier to ensure that they won’t be attacked from an outside interloper.
This carefully planned strategy has worked well over the years, but it’s not infallible. Six Guardian Angels have died in the line of duty since they began in 1979.
Stopping at every street corner, veteran Angel, Milton Oliver tells his squad to ‘post up.’ The group assembles with their backs against each other, facing outward. They spend a minute surveying their surroundings and cataloging details.
In the event they need to report a criminal, Oliver wants his team to give authorities as much information as possible. He points to a jogger nearby, with nothing so much as a quick, impalpable glance he recounts: ‘Blue sneakers, white short socks, green shorts, a grey t-shirt, he’s about six feet tall give-or-take, has short blonde hair with a bald spot in the back.’ Indeed, thirty-plus years as a Guardian has kept his eyes sharp.
Sporadic fights are a common sight in the Upper West Side these days, often times, says Sliwa, ‘You have no idea what they’re talking about because they’re too drugged up or out of their mind to make sense.’
Crossing Broadway and 79th Street, the Angels happened upon an all-too-familiar situation. Fracas has broken out among a group who have set up camp on the center island that divides the two-way boulevard. Surprisingly, Curtis is already on first-name-basis with the sidewalk dwellers.
‘Curtis,’ one woman shouted while pointing to another man, ‘This mother****** piece of **** knocked me down. I swear to god, I swear on my dead daughter’s soul, I’m not lying, he knocked me down.’ The accused denies the accusation and pleads his case, but it’s not Sliwa’s job to decide who is right, wrong, or telling the truth – his goal is to abate the situation. ‘What happened?’ Curtis said, ‘You guys all used to be friends.’
‘He’s a liar!’ she continues. ‘He knocked me down, he came over here, harasses Carl, gets his money so they smoke crack.’ She demands Sliwa to touch the back of her head, ‘You feel that? There’s a ridge, because I hit my head on the sidewalk.’ Diffusing the situation, Sliwa asks if they have a room to sleep tonight. Looking at his watch, he reminds them, ‘You might want to hurry, you’re going to miss curfew.’
Walking away from the melee, Sliwa makes a point: ‘Now can you imagine if you were a resident and just saw that?’
‘Most of the problems around here is just drama, but people are not used to dealing with these kinda of folks who come with all kinds of baggage.’
And he understands why life-long residents are furious: ‘I mean this is a top shelf, five star neighborhood, they’re not racist!’ He explained: ‘The Upper West Side has a history of liberal-progressive politics. It’s very bohemian.’
‘These are the people who would be more accepting than the most neighborhoods,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘These are the people who elected Bill de Blasio twice! And that is why they feel so scorned.’
Now the community is hotly divided over the issue: many remain outraged over the homeless hotels while others advocate for them to stay. (‘To the best of my knowledge being homeless is not a crime, but we’re treating these people like criminals,’ said local resident, Amanda Fialk to the New York Times.) Both sides have since formed non-profit coalitions to argue their points and hired lawyers to threaten lawsuits.
Years of guarding sidewalks and subways has turned Sliwa into a local celebrity with a sizable fan club. One woman dining outside a restaurant on 72nd Street asked for a picture while her dining partner announced: ‘Here he is, the next mayor of New York everybody’
The Angels march in a two line formation with a patrol leader in the front and back, it’s a strategy that Sliwa devised from the very beginning. ‘If there is a problem in the front, you will have leadership to deal with it, and if there’s a problem in the back, you can have leadership to deal with it,’ he said. ‘Almost like a two headed snake’
Patrol leader, Daniel LaPointe commands his squad of volunteers to ‘post up.’ Following his order, the group assembles with their backs against each other, facing outward. They spend a minute observing their surroundings and cataloging details. Milton Oliver (not pictured) said the purpose is to train keep their eyes sharp and senses alert
Sliwa plays black jack with some of the neighborhood’s new locals who have set up shop in the center median that divides Broadway. The man who goes by Carl told Sliwa: ‘Curtis I’ll give you three chances to win this time, let’s see what you got.’ It was only days earlier that Sliwa was forced to diffuse a heated argument between Carl, his friend and girlfriend. Pointing to the friend she shouted: ‘This mother****** piece of **** knocked me down’
Sliwa said that most problems the Guardian Angels encounter on the street do not require police presence and believes that community safety patrol programs like the Angels are a greater alternative
During the pandemic, 18,000 homeless persons were moved from shelters into empty hotel rooms across the city at an average cost of $174 per night. ‘So basically this is like a vacation, a holiday, at taxpayer’s expense!’ said Sliwa.
Worse, he alleges that the mayor is ‘taking care of his friends’ under the guise of caring for the displaced. ‘The hotel owners have been friends of de Blasio for years, they’re getting paid a lot of money. It’s another kiss-off by de Blas.’
Since July, Mayor Bill de Blasio has flip-flopped multiple times on the issue. ‘It all depends on who is suing him today,’ quipped Sliwa. After multiple U-turns, his office announced on September 28 that they will officially move 300 men from the Lucerne Hotel to a new facility at the Radisson in downtown Manhattan. ‘It just shows you how dysfunctional this mayor is, he treats these homeless people and emotionally disturbed like chess pieces on a chess board.’
Before announcing his bid for chief executive in March of this year, Curtis Sliwa officially left the Reform Party and switched to the GOP. He said the Democratic Party in New York is already flooded with candidates, ‘each of them more radical than the next.’
‘Looking at the makeup of the city, you really have to be out in the streets. It’s not something you’re going to win on TV with advertisements or up in the suites getting wined, dined and pocket lined with donor checks,’ he said. ‘You really got to take it to the streets and I don’t know of anybody else who can do that – who has that same kind of credibility.’
In recent months, Sliwa has made no bones about his disapproval of ‘oblivious’ Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio’s ham-handed response to the coronavirus. They have plunged the city $9billion deeper into debt and squeezed the life out of the ‘economic engine of the world’ from their ‘ivory towers.’
‘They have become drunk with power,’ he said. ‘They are little fascists, little Il Duces.’ (a nickname for the Italian dictator Mussolini).
Sliwa says his ability to connect with people sets him apart from other candidates. ‘I’m not afraid of people. I touch people. That’s the difference between me and them. They don’t trust people.’
Never in shortage of barbs for the mayor, Sliwa told DailyMail.com: ‘The irony is that he has armed security officers from the very police departments he defunded. The first ones to be defunded should have been his personal, 24 hour security detail, but he’s too scared.’ He added, ‘They say we should operate with less cops so set the example.’
When it comes to his predecessor, Sliwa’s delivers a blistering attack: ‘He’s a sanctimonious hypocrite.’
Patrol Leader Daniel LaPointe leads his team to Riverside Drive after they received reports from local residents that a few cars had been broken into. Curtis told DailyMail.com: ‘Even if you wanted to call the police, they won’t come, it’s a muggar’s delight’
Sliwa thinks it’s important to have, what he calls, ‘boots on the ground.’ Without boots on the ground, police are only riding around responding to 911 calls. ‘They are reactive, no proactive,’ he said. ‘Cops don’t walk a beat, the Guardian Angels walk a beat’
Residents of the Upper West Side say that their quality of life took a catastrophic downturn this summer when the city turned three of the neighborhood’s luxury hotels (the Lucerne, the Belnord and the Belleclaire) into makeshift homeless shelters during the COVID-19 crises. 730 women and men – a handful of which were registered sex offenders, were moved into the neighborhood without notice or discussion nor social services to provide for them
A Facebook group has been set up by local residents to share pictures of homeless people in the Upper West Side as the crisis continues to grow. Pictures shared on the group have shown a number of homeless men sleeping on the streets in the local area around the hotels. ‘I think the tipping point happened when the Lucerne got inhabited,’ said local resident Valerie Clark. ‘That’s not to say that all those people are bad, there was just too many people in a small area. Suddenly, there were like a thousand people and all their friends and it was literally like a party in the Upper West Side, with sex in the alleyways, drug use and shooting up on the streets’
‘The vast majority of the problems in this neighborhood are caused by the emotionally disturbed, or those who have been drinking all day or have a drug problem,’ said Sliwa. The wealthy neighborhood suddenly became inundated with homeless people after the city moved 730 into luxury hotels that were turned into makeshift shelters during the coronavirus pandemic. Sliwa blames budget cuts from Governor Cuomo for the lack of resources to help those with mental health issues. ‘When he got elected governor there were 30,000 beds in psychiatric facilities statewide. Right now, there is only 3,000 – you need 3,000 just for the Island of Manhattan’
Homeless not far from the Belleclaire Hotel and the Lucerne Hotel can be seen congregating near West 79th and Broadway. Some were seen drinking and urinating in the center median. Milton Oliver told DailyMail.com that one of the first problems they confronted were a group of men hanging out by the park in the early morning hours that were harassing women as they jogged past. ‘They were waiting for women to come jogging through the neighborhood and then they were pulling down their pants and pleasuring themselves. That let us know that we had to send a group out there at five o’clock in the morning to make sure these guys keep their pants on’
Despite his disdain for politicians, Curtis Sliwa (center) is running for Mayor of NYC in the 2021 election. The native New Yorker laughs about the time he ‘won’ third place in the 1996 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest: ‘Although I cheated,’ he jokes, ‘Which I guess would make me a good politician’
By the looks of it, Sliwa is not wrong about his credibility on the street. Years of guarding sidewalks and subways has turned him into a local celebrity with a sizable fan club from all walks of life. One woman dining outside a Mediterranean restaurant on 72nd Street stood up from her table to praise the red bomber-jacket vigilante: ‘Curtis my hero, I love you. Can I have a picture?’ Two friends in their 30s, eagerly approach him in the park to ask for a selfie, one ribs the other over his enthusiasm, ‘Calm down man, do you wanna make out with him or something?’
Local residents abound pause to thank Sliwa for his work, others shout ‘Curtis for mayor!’ as he passes by with his team of new trainees, in the standard issue Guardian Angel red and white uniform.
Julius Morgan, a lifelong New Yorker could hardly contain his glee: ‘Curtis, my man, it’s been a long time my brother!’ he said. ‘You’re still rocking and rolling, you’re still holding it down.’ Morgan explained how he rode the crime-infested subway to Harlem everyday for his bartending job during the early 1980s – a time when muggings were a way of life and fifty cents was the price of admission for a potential suicide mission on what was considered to be the most dangerous mass transit system in the world. ‘What he has done all over the world is unprecedented,’ said Morgan. ‘And the fact that I just saw his whole crew walking on the street feels so good because right now we’re still in the same situation.’
Sliwa’s trademark swagger and outlandish persona has made him popular as a talk- radio host on WABC. His unique phraseology, peppered with dozens of Italian slang (jadrool, schifosa, sfachime) was learned on the streets of Canarsie, Brooklyn where he was born to parents of Italian and Polish descent. And although Sliwa grew up in a neighborhood where ‘the FBI stood for Forever Abusing Italians,’ he said there was never a draw to join the neighborhood wise guys: ‘They would break your leg and stuff it in your pocket.’
He was a 24-year-old high school dropout working as a night manager at a McDonald’s in the Bronx when he formed the Guardian Angels in 1979. New York City was on the brink of financial collapse and budgetary cutbacks to the NYPD turned the city into a hotbed for violence during the crack epidemic. He convinced 13 of his employees to form a crime-prevention group that patrolled the No. 4 train – also known to cops and straphangers at the time as ‘the mugger’s express.’
‘The first 13, who were all employees of mine on the night shift, they weren’t the most idealistic – so I had to brainwash them every night when they came in for their shift. So I’d have to pump them up; at times, I would tell them, hey, I’ll give you a few extra hours on the time card at the end of your shift.’
By the end of 1980, more than 700 Guardian Angels were roaming the subways and streets racking up citizens arrests.
Though their cherry red jackets were a welcome sight to terrified New Yorkers, others had their misgivings. Mayor Ed Koch denounced them as ‘paramilitaries,’ and rank-and-file officers thought they were a threat to their job security. ‘They viewed us as if we were a gang,’ said Sliwa. ‘Because we were from the Bronx, mostly black and Hispanic, they didn’t trust us.’
‘So I got arrested 77 times in 13 years,’ he said, as a point of pride. ‘The cops were just out to arrest us, they gave us wooden shampoos, we were sucking concrete, I can’t tell you how many times I’d get cuffed. And they’d say, ‘Oh, you see the hood of the squad car?’ I knew what was going to happen. BAM, huge knot on my head.’
Despite his lengthy personal arrest record, Sliwa wants to make law enforcement a priority.
Demands to defund the police prompted the mayor to cancel the planned hiring of 1,160 new police cadets to the force. Anti-cop rhetoric triggered an unprecedented number of NYPD officers to seek early retirement, from March 1 through July 22: 813 cops retired with an additional 1,171 who filed paperwork following them out the door.
‘Not only will I be in the streets, but I’m going to be in the police precincts because they need a morale boost, they need a cheerleader.’
Curtis Sliwa passes his card to a local resident and suggests to call the Guardian Angels if he has any problems. The mayoral candidate adamant that he will run his campaign without financing it through massive donations because he does not want his administration to be indebted to any one person, organization or lobby. ‘For most politicians, if you’re not a big player, you get no attention.’ he said. ‘In my administration, you can be a nobody and you’ll be just as equal to somebody’
18,000 homeless persons were moved from shelters into empty hotel rooms across the city at an average cost of $174 per night. ‘So basically this is like a vacation, a holiday, at taxpayer’s expense!’ said Sliwa
In recent months, Sliwa has been vocal over his disapproval of ‘oblivious’ Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio’s ham-handed response to the coronavirus. He said ‘they have become drunk with power’ while sitting in their ‘ivory towers’ as they plunged the city $9billion deeper into debt and squeeze the life out of small business owners, restaurateurs and corporations. He added: ‘They are little fascists, little Il Duces.’ (a nickname for the Italian dictator Mussolini)
Flyers inviting volunteers to join the Guardian Angels are advertised all over the Upper West Side. In the background, the Guardian Angels can be seen ‘posting up’ and observing their surroundings on Riverside Drive
Valerie Clark, a volunteer for the Upper West Side patrol explained that the Angels serve a different purpose than uniformed officers: ‘It’s really more about deterring than policing,’ she said. ‘Uniformed police officers need probable cause to approach potential criminal activity and by then, the criminal has usually stopped doing it, so our goal is to deter it from happening in the first place with just our presence.’ She added: ‘Crime happens in darkness when nobody is looking so we’re just there to turn the light on’
The Guardian Angels perform a night patrol of the Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, amid growing concerns about hundreds of homeless recently moved into hotels by the city
Sliwa thinks the biggest threat to the city is ‘the personal war between Governor Cuomo and de Blasio. ‘They’re always competing and putting each other down instead of coming forward with a plan. As a result, the city, the economic engine of the world, is now in a downward spiral with 20% unemployment.’ He adds, ‘You probably have more activity in downtown Buffalo at night than some places in Manhattan- imagine!’
New York City is down to 30,000 cops, which according to Sliwa is a ‘dangerously low’ level for the massive metropolis. ‘Between the early retirements and the fact that you don’t have cadets replacing them, it’ll go down and dirty.’
His biggest fear is that budget cuts will deplete the city’s counter-terrorism task force that was established after 9/11. ‘While all this domestic insurrection is taking place, you know the terrorists overseas are licking their chops,’ he said to DailyMail.com. ‘They want vengeance. They want to hit New York City because they know it’s the crown jewel.’
Sliwa also has ideas about police reform: he wants to eliminate ticket quotas, increase police presence and work to mend police-community relations. He pins the collapse in trust on what he calls a ‘blue wall of silence.’ He told DailyMail.com: ‘Even though they know they have bad apples amongst them, there is peer pressure not to rat out your own.’
In his administration, Sliwa says the rules will be simple: ‘If you’re fair and square, we got your back.’ But, he warns, ‘If you’re excessive, if you abuse your authority – there is going to be a price to pay.’
He points to Mayor Bloomberg’s faulty quota system as another reason for the breakdown in trust. In one year alone, 700,000 stop and frisks were conducted on black and Hispanic men without probable cause, ‘they were just being turned up against the wall to meet the quota.’ Based on demographics, Sliwa said that roughly equates to every black and Hispanic male in New York City getting stopped and searched that year. ‘It was all analytics – that was Bloomberg – all analytics like Wall Street.’
The situation got especially bad at the end of July when city officials moved 283 men into the Lucerne Hotel without notice or discussion. The majority of these men came from a heroin rehabilitation shelter and it was discovered that 13 of the new residents were on the sex offender’s registry, which caused outrage in the community
The crime problem stemming from the hotels is compounded by ineffective security guards that fail to do their job. ‘The security that they hired have basically been told to stay hush, hush, mush, mush,’ said Sliwa. ‘They don’t speak to anybody. Don’t work with the community. They deny everything and keep it all in house.’ He adds: ‘They operate on what is called the D.I.D syndrome- deny, ignore, delay’
Homeless individuals gather at the corner of W. 79th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side. While on patrol with DailyMail.com, fracas broke out among the individuals that was expertly diffused by the Guardian Angels. ‘Most of the problems around here is just drama,’ said Sliwa. ‘But people are not used to dealing with these kind of folks who come with all kinds of baggage’
Sliwa thinks law enforcement should be proactive not reactive. He wants more ‘boots on the ground’ to serve as a visual deterrent much like the Guardian Angels do. He also believes it can help build a rapport with the community they serve. As of now, police interaction with the public only happens when they are responding to a negative event or a 911 call. ‘So they got their guard up and everyone is tense.’
These situations could be better handled with more unarmed citizen policing groups like the Guardian Angels which actively work to diffuse situations and disputes.
Curtis Sliwa speaks at the Women’s Republican Club for a press conference next to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (center) and businessman John Catsimatidis (right). Sliwa told DailyMail.com: ‘The implosion here is a result of Democrat Liberal Progressives. It will continue if Trump is elected and it will be jettisoned if a Biden is elected. We’re in a descent and hopefully if I become mayor we’ll put the brakes on that’
Referring to the altercation that happened earlier in the evening on 79th and Broadway, he said: ‘Had the cops come, which they probably never would have, but if the cops came, there would have been seven or eight guys. It would have escalated out of control, she’d be locked up, he’d be locked up – all for nothing. Because most of the times I’ve seen them, they were all the best of buddies.’
More than anything, Sliwa believes the biggest problem facing the next mayor is the city’s menacing $100billion-plus debt. ‘There is no magic panacea. You can’t cook the books. You can’t keep deferring. You can’t keep borrowing and then forcing this onto our children and children’s children’s generation.’
The reality is, there is no bailout coming from the Federal government, he explained. ‘It’s not just the police that are going to be defunded, so will the fire department, teachers, social workers. Every agency is going to get cuts.’ As a result, the overall quality of life is going to sink dramatically and ‘it’s going to be most noticeable in public safety.’
‘Bottom line, we’re going to have to do more with less,’ said the man with a preternatural sense of civic duty.
Raising taxes is simply not a viable option: ‘You just can’t. You’ve already broken their backs to begin with. They’re not earning income and businesses and not generating revenue. So who are you going to tax?’
Compounding the issue is the recent exodus of New Yorkers fleeing the city, taking their disposable income and tax dollars with them.
The situation is especially bad in the Upper West Side where Sliwa said moving trucks are ‘stacked up’ down the street and nine out of 12 units in his building on W. 87th Street sit vacant. ‘The mass evacuation,’ he said, ‘is in full effect.’
His goal as mayor is to stanch the fleeing. ‘Improve, don’t move,’ he said. ‘Because if they vacate, if they leave, then the city is going to look like downtown Buffalo.’ For Sliwa, there is no worse fate.
Sliwa thinks the most significant threat to the city is ‘the personal war between Governor Cuomo and de Blasio. ‘They’re always competing and putting each other down instead of coming forward with a plan. As a result, the city, the economic engine of the world, is now in a downward spiral with 20% unemployment.’ He adds, ‘You probably have more activity in downtown Buffalo at night than some places in Manhattan- imagine!’
He also doesn’t mince words when asked to rate previous New York City mayors on a scale of one to ten. ‘Lindsay, horrible- one. Dinkins- one. De Blasio- one. Koch, I would give him a five because he was a good cheerleader but he overlooked corruption. Bloomberg, ehh- five.’
President Trump’s polarizing lawyer, Rudy Giuliani received the highest mark- eight. Perhaps it’s a residual soft spot for the mayor that gave the Guardian Angels legitimacy after a 13-year-long fraught relationship with the police. Though Sliwa was quick to clarify that Giuliani has since moved to ‘the far right wing’ of the Republican Party in the specter of Trump.
Appealing to residents who are fleeing New York City, the mayoral hopeful says: ‘Give me a shot. And the city that you so loved and thought you would never leave? – give it a second chance. It’s going to be different but it’s still going to have all its old glory, excitement, culture and bohemia that you won’t get in A Little House on the Prairie, Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver-land’
Sliwa debreifs with Patrol Leader, Daniel LaPointe after an evening on the street
Tania Isentein has lived and owned a small business on 73rd Street since 1999. She decided to join the Guardian Angels after witnessing crime increase in her neighborhood. ‘I feel very tied to the community, I don’t want to give up on it and because of those roots, I took the most direct route to helping the streets be safer,’ she said. Adding to that, living in a secure neighborhood is also an important function to her local dog grooming shop. ‘Right now business is terrible, I need people to come back and they won’t if they feel unsafe’
Ingrid Bright, 54 (not pictured), is a psychotherapist who patrols two nights a week and attends the Saturday training session. ‘A bunch of my girlfriends who all live in the Upper West Side were complaining about what’s going on and I’m more of a take action kind of person. It flipped some sort of switch in me to do something,’ she said. Having grown up in New York City, during the late 1970s and 80s, Bright remembers when the Guardian Angels first formed. ‘In high school we were like ooooo Curtis!’ she joked
Curtis Sliwa, leader of the Guardian Angels holds an olive branch outside the Transit Police Benevolent Association offices in 1981. Originally viewed by law enforcement as ‘vigilantes,’ the Guardian Angels were constantly at odds with the Mayor of New York, and the NYPD in the early years of their formation. He recalls: ‘I got arrested 77 times in 13 years. The cops were just out to arrest us, they gave us wooden shampoos, we were sucking concrete, I can’t tell you how many times I’d get cuffed’
He’s prepared for the rigorous vetting required of political candidates during a campaign and says he’s got nothing to hide. ‘Sure like everyone, I’ve got skeletons. But the difference between me and them is that mine have already been written and read about in the tabloids.’ He points to his multiple marriages with ‘all kinds of chaos’ as one example.
‘I’ve had quite the personal life. I think I’ve had as many wives as radio partners in 30 years of talk radio.’
Sliwa already has a first order of business lined up if he wins office. The animal lover who lives with 13 rescue cats in a 310 square foot apartment said, ‘The first measure would be no kill shelters. There will never be another dog or cat killed in a New York City shelter.’
Second on the agenda? Public lavatories. Sliwa is baffled that a city of 8 million – ‘supposedly the most sophisticated, advanced city in the world has nowhere to go.’ Amid coronavirus closures, the homeless were forced to ‘pop a squat and defecate in public.’
Once again, Sliwa blames politicians, ‘They don’t care, they’re being driven around.’ A fleeting proposal for self-cleaning bathrooms was put before City Hall but ‘they all wanted to get greased so now we don’t have what Berlin, Ankara, cities all over Europe have.’
Third, Sliwa looks to prosecute ThriveNYC, a $1.25billion dollar initiative to address mental health issues that is run by the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, without any accountability or scrutiny. ‘I haven’t seen anything,’ said Sliwa. ‘And the two people with subpoena power have never subpoenaed the records – Scott Stringer, the messiah, the City Comptroller who was birthed to be a politician and Corey Johnson, the carpetbagger from Boston.’
When asked if he had any political heroes, Sliwa was stumped. It was the first time he had nothing to say in two hours. ‘I’m an outlier when it comes to that because I’ve had very little respect for politicians of any type.’ Forced to answer, he named someone obscure and unremarkable: President James K. Polk, for the simple reason that he swore to serve one term and stuck to his promise.
The larger-than-life candidate says his bid for mayor ‘will be the most unconventional campaign. It’s all going to be waged in the streets and it’s not going to cost a lot of money.’
‘I’m certainly not a wealthy individual,’ he said. ‘If I died today, I’d be in a cardboard box in potter’s field for all the child support I pay.’
Anyone who raises money for a political campaign is selling himself and Sliwa doesn’t want to be indebted to the quid-pro-quo favor trade. On that note, he delivers one final indictment on de Blasio: ‘He had to beg, borrow a buck and battle for billions of dollars to run for office. The only time he was ever on time was when he was running for mayor to pick up the check and then running to the bank to make sure it didn’t bounce.’
Curtis appeals to those who have lost hope in the city: ‘Give me a shot,’ he says. ‘And the city that you so loved and thought you would never leave? – give it a second chance.’
‘It’s going to be different but it’s still going to have all its old glory, excitement, culture and bohemia that you won’t get in A Little House on the Prairie, Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver-land. Sure, you may have comfort but that’s a sterile existence.’
In forty years, Curtis Sliwa has never asked for anything in return for his commitment to the city he loves. ‘Well I’m asking for a favor now,’ he said. ‘I’m asking you to vote for me.’
Cuomo begs wealthy New Yorkers to come back and save the city
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is begging wealthy New Yorkers to return to the city to save it from economic ruin while fighting off calls from other lawmakers to raise their taxes – a move he fears could permanently drive the top 1 percent out of the city.
Thousands of New York City residents fled Manhattan and Brooklyn earlier this year when the city was the COVID-19 epicenter of the world.
Many flocked to their second homes in the Hamptons or upstate, while others rented or bought new properties, abandoning their expensive city apartments.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is begging wealthy New Yorkers to return to the city to save it from economic ruin while fighting off calls from other lawmakers to raise their taxes
Now, six months on with no end to the national nightmare in sight, many are laying down permanent roots. While New York has overcome its battle against the virus, the rest of the country – where lockdown rules have been far more relaxed – is seeing a resurgence.
It is preventing New York City from resuming its normal activity because Cuomo fears a second spike in cases will happen if people from worse-affected states travel in and infect residents again.
At a press conference on Monday, he said of the wealthiest residents who have long left the city: ‘I literally talk to people all day long who are in their Hamptons house who also lived here, or in their Hudson Valley house or in their Connecticut weekend house, and I say, ‘You gotta come back, when are you coming back?’
”We’ll go to dinner, I’ll buy you a drink. Come over, I’ll cook.’
‘They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking? If I stay there, I pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge,’ he said.
It is not unusual for Manhattan to clear out for the month of August, when temperatures between the skyscrapers soar and send many fleeing to Long Island’s beaches or further afield.
But this summer, with the ongoing lack of appeal in the city, the likelihood that people will come back in the fall is shrinking.