GOP mayoral candidates seek votes from Conservatives

Two men vying for the Republican Party’s nomination to run for mayor broke bread with Conservative allies on Sunday, speaking at a luncheon about issues championed by the right, including government spending and fighting crime.

Joe Lhota and John Catsimatidis both spoke to a crowded ballroom of party members at the Kings County Conservative Party’s annual luncheon at the Bay Ridge Manor catering hall on April 14.

Lhota, the former deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration and the former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, focused on budget issues in his remarks. The city’s budget “has grown 55 percent over the rate of inflation,” Lhota said, adding that the city is spending more than it takes in.

“This is a pivotal time for New York City,” Lhota said.

Lhota, a Brooklyn resident, also sought to appeal to the sense of pride the borough’s residents feel. Calling city government too Manhattan-centric, he said voters “need to elect a mayor from one of the boroughs outside of Manhattan.”

Catsimatidis told the Conservatives that the city cannot afford to retreat from gains made in fighting crime. “We cannot give back our streets,” he said. Catsimatidis, a billionaire who made his fortune by founding the Gristedes supermarket chain, stated repeatedly, “We can’t go back.”

Catsimatidis also vowed to fix city schools if he became mayor. “Our education system is broken,” he said.

Conservatives also heard from US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Brooklyn-Staten Island), state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn), Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island), and Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Bensonhurst) at the luncheon. The latter might seem like a bit of a surprise, but Greenfield pointed out that he ran for the council seat with the backing of both the Democratic and Conservative parties. Being a conservative Democrat “is kind of like being an honest politician,” he said, adding that it’s rare.

Greenfield said he constantly fights the city on behalf of beleaguered store owners who are hit with excessive fees and fines. “If you own a small business, the city will do everything it can to put you out of business.” He said. “They will fine you. They will tax you,” he said. One storeowner in his district was slapped with a $6,000 fine. “Those are the issues we are trying to fight,” Greenfield said.

The luncheon’s main speaker, pollster John McLaughlin, of John McLaughlin and Associates, presented results of polls taken before and after the 2012 presidential election that demonstrated that the country still favors much of the Conservative Party’s agenda, despite the victory of Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney.

Jerry Kassar, chairman of the Kings County Conservative Party, and Fran Vella-Marrone, the vice chairman, presented the party’s Ronald Reagan Volunteerism Award to Bay Ridge civic activist Arlene Keating. Reagan, Kassar said, believed that “democracy begins with involvement with the local community.” He noted that in recent years, the conservatives have given the award to “someone outside the party.” Keating was selected because “she puts in an enormous number of volunteer hours,” he said.

Keating, a former president of the Bay Ridge Community Council, is a trustee of the Kassenbrock Brothers Memorial Scholarship Fund, treasurer of the 68th Precinct Community Council, and a member of the board of directors of BrooklynOne Productions, a Bay Ridge-based theater company. Keating said she was “honored and humbled” to receive the award named after Reagan, who she called “one of our country’s finest leaders.”

Keating recalled that she has had a volunteer spirit since she was a little girl in school. “I don’t know where it comes from, but I have been volunteering most of my life,” she said. “Everyone should give it a try,” she added.

Mike Long, the chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, also received an award at the luncheon; or rather he re-received an award. Kassar said Long’s summer home in Breezy Point was destroyed in the fire that engulfed that community during Super-Storm Sandy on Oct. 29. Hundreds of awards and mementoes that Long had received over the years, were also destroyed in the blaze, Kassar said. One of those awards was an American Heritage plaque Long was given a few years ago. The Kings County Conservative Party had a duplicate made and Kassar presented it to Long on Sunday.

“This is very moving,” Long said. “It will long be remembered,” he said.