Sheinkopf Speaks: Curtis Sliwa’s Past and Present

Mayoral Candidate Curtis Sliwa

All you need to do is walk around Manhattan streets. You will see walking memories no matter where you turn. Even in the Times Square shuttle, under repair since at least the reign of King John of Magna Carta fame. Inconvenience never ending. 

Walking history appears wearing a red beret. It’s him–the Republican party candidate for mayor– unrecognized in the most trafficked subway station–weeks before a November mayoral general election. 

Hank Sheinkopf

If you have lived a while, the red beret was, when in view, the stomach acid settler during a time when even the husky ran home before dark. The streets and subways were under undisputed thug ownership, then. Uniformed cops often carried one on a hip, and another gun on the ankle. Nightsticks made from ax handles, transit cops using portable radios–when they worked– stained with hair and blood. What we needed was more cops, better equipment for transit police. What we saw was the taller younger man with the red beret and those who walked the streets with him. They would do what others could not: protect, defend. And make good copy for reporters, and great visuals.

Now, he is back. With millions to spend from the city’s generous taxpayer-funded campaign finance program. 

Republicans are elected New York City Mayor in response to crisis, real or not. LaGuardia: corruption. Lindsay: complete city services breakdown. Giuliani: crime. Bloomberg: 9/11. 

People wanted to vote for those Republicans.  But it was a very different New York. The outer-borough White Catholics who elected Ed Koch–the pro-death penalty democrat, and Giuliani, the anti-Dinkins, are gone. The Black-Jewish coalition that elected and re-elected John Lindsay has seen better days. Bloomberg–who ran an excellent campaign–watched his opponent beat himself.

What about the guy with the red beret? Demographics are against him. Democrats outnumber, outnumber and really outnumber Republicans. Try getting a bet placed on a come from behind red beret win. You won’t find a bookmaker.

So why bother, you ask. 

Curtis Sliwa is determined. His campaign rhetoric attacking Democratic nominee Eric Adams sounds like Giuliani versus Dinkins. His campaign fund-raising appeals scream outer-borough white working-class rage-seeking vengeance. 

His New York City shrinks daily. The managerial class housed comfortably in Manhattan will not hear him. The new class–gentrifiers and occupiers of housing stock once-affordable–vote on the left. The blue-collar backbone of the city is Black and Latino, and not necessarily responsive to rhetoric of a violent era we painfully cite.

The red beret reminds us of a time we fight to forget. And Curtis Sliwa’s face, his walk, his life remind us of the police officers with two guns, the ax handles, the daily crime murder count.

The walking memories of our fears are what he carries with him. Memories that we want to erase. Yes, there is a crisis. Old memories won’t end that pain. The Red Beret is the signal for angry nostalgia. The problem is anger and nostalgia, sadly for Curtis Sliwa, do not fit.  

Hank Sheinkopf worked as a meat cutter and a police officer before being introduced to political consulting as a union organizer. Sheinkopf founded Sheinkopf Communications Ltd., a political-strategic communications firm, in 1981. Over the course of his career, Sheinkopf has contributed to more than 700 political campaigns across the United States including presidents, governors, mayors, and numerous elected officials.