On Monday evening, Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith met with the several of the city’s Republican county leaders at Ricardo Steak House in El Barrio in order to pitch his potential candidacy for mayor in 2013 and, most importantly of all, attempt to gather the necessary support for them to grant him the party line in 2013. A handful of prominent Democrats are raising millions of dollars for the office, but with November of next year looking closer and closer by the day, a Republican contender has yet to formally throw his or her hat into the ring, let alone begin fundraising, creating an environment where the GOP establishment is willing to meet with literally anybody. And Mr. Smith, who sat down at a table in a back corner to dine on steak and garlic bread for over four hours, certainly did meet with them.
“I’ll meet with anybody that’s interested in running on the line,” Bronx GOP Chair Jay Savino told us before Mr. Smith arrived. “I’m more than willing to sit and talk and see what they want to talk about. I don’t know what Senator Smith has to say, I didn’t reach out to him, he reached out to us. There’s no agenda, there’s no litmus test, I want to see what he has to say.”
And Ricardo Steak House, a darkened, swanky establishment with bumping dance music playing in the background (e.g. the disco classic “Kung Fu Fighting”), provided an interesting environment for those GOP leaders to meet as they strategized their path to hold onto Gracie Mansion once Mayor Michael Bloomberg is term-limited out. Manhattan GOP Chair Daniel Isaacs, swearing by the steak during a cigar break outside, vowed that the location would be the future official meeting place for his county’s organization, at least, and pointed to an upcoming meeting with another 2013 mayoral aspirant, Doe Fund founder George McDonald, at the very same spot later this week.
At one point in the middle of the evening, Mr. Savino, on the way back from a phone call, told us the discussion had been “interesting” so far. He paused, then repeated the assessment, “Interesting.”
Due to election law, assuming he doesn’t change his party registration in the next couple months, Mr. Smith needs the support of at least three of the city’s five Republican county leaders in order to even wage a campaign as a Republican in 2013, which is certainly no easy task when other GOP notables are also considering throwing their hat into the ring. Furthermore, Mr. Savino and Mr. Isaacs, while supportive, didn’t sound like they were completely invested in Mr. Smith’s campaign — both swore they were die-hard fans of John Catsimatidis should the wealthy businessman officially enter the race. Regardless, Mr. Smith appears to be full steam ahead with his mayoral exploration and we were told he has plans to meet with the city’s three other county leaders, many of whom are currently on vacation and thus couldn’t make the steakhouse event, in the near future.
Nevertheless, from conversations after the meeting, Mr. Smith appeared to be off to a good start and both Republican leaders — referring to him as a “centrist Democrat” — seemed enthused with his candidacy after probing him with questions about his ideology and political baggage. After all, the thinking goes, their previous pick of Mr. Bloomberg, a supporter of gay marriage, gun control and limitations on soda cups sizes, did anything but blindly follow conservative orthodoxy, so some wiggle room might be allowed in such an overwhelmingly Democratic city. And while Mr. Smith can’t compete financially on the same level as the billionaire mayor, he might be able to win enough minority votes to perhaps partially close the gap with a Democratic opponent.
“We have far more in common than I anticipated,” Mr. Savino explained about Mr. Smith at the end, citing his support for Mr. Bloomberg’s law enforcement tactics like stop-and-frisk in particular.
However, exactly what was discussed between the group of politicos was hard to ascertain. Before the meeting, Mr. Smith pulled up in a black Chevy Suburban with tinted windows, waited some amount of time, and eventually emerged, only to quickly duck into the restaurant without turning to address The Observer‘s inquiries. On his way out, Mr. Smith acknowledged us, but declined to comment. An aide, who would not identify himself and did not ask for contact information, vowed to be in touch.