Populism Finds a Model in Curtis Sliwa’s Run for NYC Mayor

Curtis Sliwa may be New York City’s only hope for a real people’s mayor, but his campaign is also setting the standard for authentic populism nationwide. Every 2022 and 2024 Republican hopeful should pay close attention to his campaign in the effort to take back America. 

 Don’t sleep in on New York’s mayoral Election Days, especially the June 22 primary. The two-man race on the Republican side features Sliwa—and that’s the only name that matters. 

 Several important lessons can be drawn from Sliwa’s campaign even before a single vote is cast, because he’s polling well among a key demographic that overwhelmingly supported 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump.

 If Republican candidates in 2022 and 2024 think they can just ride a populist wave to victory on bumper sticker slogans like “Make America Great Again” or “America First,” they’re wrong. Hollow populism will backfire just as it did in Georgia’s U.S. Senate elections earlier this year.

 But having the correct positions isn’t always enough, either. The candidate himself matters just as much. Not only must he be an outsider, but it’s also essential for his communication style to break through the gatekeepers in the press and social media.

 Enter Sliwa.

 Sliwa is best known for founding the Guardian Angels in 1979, an effort that grew out of his precursor project, the anti-gang Magnificent 13. He still personifies the Angels, which has since gone international, but while his star power has risen as a radio talker, he’s still a man of the streets and the subway.

 Outsider? Check. But can he also bypass and short-circuit the media’s control over narrative in order to reach the people directly? Just watch him

 Is Sliwa starting to remind you of his fellow New Yorker, Donald Trump? There are clear differences between the two, but both show that running in a Republican Party primary does not necessarily mean running as a conventional Republican.

 It’s worth knowing more about Sliwa and how his approach pertains to authentic populism.

 Sliwa’s mayoral campaign rests upon his record of genuine public service, not a career in politics. His message is not new but it’s credible. His battle-ready stances against corruption, elitism, rampant crime, and overall social decay have people clamoring.

 Sliwa got his jaw broken last summer by rioting and looting leftists, so he literally can feel the pain so many business owners and other law-abiding Americans are feeling. Dig a little deeper into his past, and you will find he rescued people from a burning building while on a paper delivery route at age 16.

 Leading by example and keeping skin in the game are qualities that are naturally rooted in true patriots—not utopian, woke leftists. For this reason, it should be all the more embarrassing to Republican voters that the Democrats compete so closely for the mantles of populism with standouts like Bernie Sanders and AOC, who are as inauthentic as anyone could be. 

 Whether it’s a race for mayor or U.S. senator, the leading themes or issues on a populist campaign inevitably will be at least a few of the following: anti-corruption, quality of life, fostering community, and of course economic reform. These all usually go hand-in-hand.

 Sliwa kicked off his campaign promising to close down and investigate ThriveNYC, the $1 billion mental-health initiative directed by Chirlane McCray, the incumbent mayor’s wife. Where has all the people’s money gone? It’s a scandal in a city with infrastructure overrun by homelessness and violence. 

 Sliwa is a regular subway rider, so he notices the unmentionable horrors that undermine New Yorkers’ quality of life every day. COVID-19 is not to blame for the subway being near empty, as Sliwa likes to point out while refusing to be muzzled by the mask mandate. 

 Returning power to the people and giving communities a chance to make a comeback are other notable aspects of Sliwa’s campaign. One of his priorities is to ban kill shelters for the city’s unowned dogs and cats. He keeps 15 cats at his apartment, so again, he leads by example.

 He plans to visit every police precinct to shake the hands of every law enforcement officer, as morale is very low following the “defund the police” movement. He would re-fund the police by removing the property tax loopholes for institutions like Columbia University and New York University, which use their wealth to undermine the city with their proliferation of leftist agendas.

 Schools, including charters, will be incentivized to provide more vocational training to meet the labor demands of the modern economy. He would bring back bail, empowering judges so that criminals aren’t so recklessly released.

 Sliwa loves good old-fashioned fun, too. The city’s nightlife will be protected, so that the clubs, bars, theaters, and concert halls have no worry of forced closure.

 The New York Young Republican Club endorsed Sliwa for all that and for his “classic, New Yorker chutzpah.” America needs more chutzpah too, grounded in love for this country and its people, its families, and communities. If the GOP learns enough from Sliwa, the populist revival has great promise in 2022 and 2024.


About Gavin Wax

Gavin Wax is the 76th President of the New York Young Republican Club, Chairman of the New York Republican Liberty Caucus, an Ambassador for Turning Point USA, and an Associate Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. You can follow him on Twitter at @GavinWax.

Photo: Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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