Our Favorite Billionaire

17 Feb 2020 | 02:34

Grassroots billionaire - NY has no shortage of millionaires - and some billionaires. And there's nothing new about rich New Yorkers running for political office. But three billionaires with Manhattan roots seeking the same national office? That's something, right? Well, here you go: For President: former mayor Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and POTUS himself. Steyer was born in Manhattan and attended Buckley School and is now a Californian. POTUS hails from Queens and lived at 56th St and Fifth until he tweeted he was leaving NYC for Mar-a-Lago at the end of his presidency because he was treated badly by NY's political leaders. Mayor Mike, born in Medford, Massachusetts, resides on East 79th St, when he's not out campaigning.

Supermarket Man

But the billionaires with Manhattan bona fides who’ve run in non-presidential political races, don't stop there. Case in point, John Catsimatidis, who made his billions while living and working in NY. His Gristedes supermarkets are synonymous with NY and his investments in real estate and energy holdings are everywhere. So how come, as a billionaire New Yorker, he's NOT running for president? Easy. He was born in Greece. Came to the U.S. when was less than a year old.

But Catsimatidis has been engaged in the political and civic life of NY, particularly in Manhattan, ever since. He was raised in Harlem. Has lived on Manhattan's East Side and West side. He's worked in the Bronx, in Queens and, of course, Manhattan. Like Bloomberg and Trump, he's been both a Democrat and a Republican and has supported candidates from both parties. In his teenage years, he volunteered for West Side Democrat Congressman William Fitts Ryan and in later years worked in the campaign of Congressman Jerry Nadler. Today, he's rooted in the life of the Republican Party. In 2013, he ran for Mayor in a Republican Primary. His daughter, Andrea, is chair of the Manhattan Republican Party.

Stories to Tell

In his East Midtown office of the Red Apple Group (he's the CEO), Catsimatidis sits casually in the conference room. Spectrum News 1 is on a big screen mounted on a wall, staring down, blaring mute, as he talks about his Gristede years on the UWS and how he started at the Red Apple off 96th and Broadway when his friend, who owned Red Apple, begged Catsimatidis to buy him out because he (the friend) didn't get along with his co-owner uncle; how, when he (Catsimatidis) was involved with the West Side Chamber of Commerce, he created the Columbus Avenue Festival in 1977 and how, under his leadership, the Chamber's entire budget went from $20,000 to $200,000 a year and then five years later he created the Amsterdam Avenue Festival.

Catsimatidis eagerly perused the walls of his photo-lined office suite to show me the grainy black-and-white pic of people and vendors packed in at the first Columbus Ave festival. Interestingly, in 1980 Our Town started the Third Ave Fair with the proceeds going to local organizations. I always thought that Ed Kayatt came up with the Manhattan Street Fair concept. Guess not. Catsimatidis spreads his billions through his philanthropy. He owns the Hellenic Times and recently acquired WABC Radio He hosts a weekly radio show on AM 970.

While Catsimatidis financial and philanthropic empire are widespread, he's a true denizen of the city. He made it. He gives back. Politics aside, he's grassroots, and it started in the early days. In a 2015 article in the online West Side Rag, a former editor of Wisdoms Child, Arlene Kurtis, remembered that, it was through "the help" of Red Apple supermarket owner, John Catsimatidis, who "took full page ads and paid promptly," that Wisdoms Child, a local newspaper that started publishing in the 70's but no longer does, was able to reach its West Side readers. Sounds like the generosity of spirit that started grassroots has come full circle. Way to go.