John Catsimatidis, a Greek immigrant who became one of New York's most successful business leaders, is now a Republican candidate for mayor because he believes it's time to pay back the city that allowed him to live the American dream.
"New York City is responsible for my success, they're responsible for my family's success, and I have an IOU out," he told Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview.
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Catsimatidis built a fortune from a small chain of supermarkets. His company diversified into energy, aviation, and real estate holdings and is now worth about $3 billion and employs 8,000 people.
"I believe that all people that are successful should pay back their cities, their states, their towns, our country. Instead of having professional politicians, we should have more business people and more successful people that run for office and try to help our city."
Candidates for the New York mayoral race face several controversies, including Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s stop-and-frisk program, which allows police officers to search people if they think they're carrying a weapon.
The program has been credited with curbing gun violence in the city, but has come under heavy criticism in minority communities who claim it unfairly targets young African-Americans.
Democrats running for mayor have vowed to end the program, but Catsimatidis wants to keep it.
"I am one of the only candidates that supports Ray Kelly to hopefully stay on as police commissioner or higher," said Catsimatidis.
"I'm the only one that is pushing that. I believe that if we stop stop-and-frisk, that we are surrendering to the hoodlums in New York and we can go downhill very fast. All of the Democratic candidates could hurt New York."
He also supports the police department's anti-terrorism surveillance policies, and says Kelly has a good relationship with the FBI.
"We have our own terrorist force watching out for those terrorists," he said. "We've got to keep our citizens safe and we have to make sure that people can walk around New York City and say 'I feel good about it.' To me, that's one of the most important things the next mayor should stand for."
Catsimatidis, 64, said his business experience separates him from his Republican opponent Joe Lhota, who was a deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani and most recently ran the city's transit system. The two will face off in a primary on September 10.
He criticized a campaign ad in which Giuliani, who was mayor during 9/11, shares credit with Lhota for the city's recovery after the 2001 attacks.
He said he still respects Giuliani, but pointed out, "He ran for president just on 9/11 and he came out with a very little percentage. We've got to move on."
Meanwhile, New York's Liberal Party has endorsed Catsimatidis, and he believes that can be a game changer in a city where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.
"Rudy Giuliani ran as a Republican liberal. Mayor Bloomberg ran as a Republican liberal. Many other people have run as a Republican liberal. This is what New York City is all about.
"Am I a Republican? Yes, I am a pro-business Republican. Am I a conservative? Yes, I am. I believe in safety in our streets and when I become mayor, the hoodlums better leave town," said Catsimatidis.
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