In this episode, we sit down with billionaire businessman and radio talk show host John Catsimatidis, the owner of Red Apple Group and the Manhattan supermarket chain Gristedes Foods.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: John Catsimatidis, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
John Catsimatidis: Thank you for having me this morning, and I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Jekielek: John, you and I are both based here in New York City. To this day, we still have boarded up buildings and businesses. Of course at the same time, we’re still in the middle of Coronavirus. We’re facing lockdowns. Let’s talk a little bit about New York and the realities here. What’s your take?
Mr. Catsimatidis: They have almost destroyed New York City. The theatre districts are closed. The streets are almost empty. The restaurants are concerned if they’re going to be able to pay their real estate taxes or next month’s rent bill.
I think our leadership in Albany and our leadership in New York City has not provided the right leadership to give confidence to New Yorkers. And I’m very, very concerned. Look, Andrew Cuomo is a smart guy. Bill de Blasio, I’ve known him for 20 years: he’s a smart guy. But I don’t know what… I don’t agree with the direction they’re taking our city and our state. And right now, it’s not the virus that’s hurting New York City. It’s necessary because people don’t want to return to New York, because they feel unsafe walking around the streets.
Mr. Jekielek: OK, well, that’s very interesting. So you’re a significant, obviously, business and property owner in the city. And there’s been lots of reports of, basically, a lot of affluent people leaving, and in some cases permanently. I don’t have a ton of direct numbers about that, but perhaps you have a sense of the reality of this?
Mr. Catsimatidis: On weekends or during the big pandemic, I spent time in Suffolk County, and I spend weekends in Suffolk County. And there were 500,000 New Yorkers, they tell me, in Suffolk County during the summer, and usually, Labor Day weekend, they come back home. Well, I hear that there’s still almost 300,000 New Yorkers in Suffolk County that are scared to come back to their apartments in New York.
Mr. Jekielek: Is there any truth to this idea of capital flight? Another thing that I’ve been hearing that’s been documented a little bit is that there’s a lot of people that contribute significantly to the tax base of the city that are just not going to be doing that anymore in the very near future, and that spells some serious economic problems for the city. Your thoughts?
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, I have a decision. You know, one of our divisions builds real estate, and we’ve been building apartment buildings. We were going to spend another billion dollars in the next year or two on additional buildings. Right now, I have it on hold because of concern on who is going to run the city and who’s going to run the state after November 21.
Mr. Jekielek: So actually, you’ve thought about running for mayor yourself?
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, a lot of people have been [suggesting it]. I ran for mayor in 2013. I came up short on the [Republican votes]. I ran as a Republican liberal. I am a liberal because I want to help the people, the inner city. I am a Republican because I want safety in the streets. People have been urging me to run it again. And I’m talking to them, I’m considering it, but no decision has been made.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s talk about the immediate future. What do you see happening to New York?
Mr. Catsimatidis: If we don’t fix New York in the next 60-90 days, 120 days, we’re going to do some permanent damage. One of the reasons was some of the larger corporations, whether they have 5,000 [or] 10,000 employees, are scratching their head and saying, “Well, maybe we could do with 5,000 in New York and maybe 5,000 in Florida, or 5,000 in Texas, or someplace else that’s more business friendly”.
These politicians in Albany and in the city council in New York, they’re not business people, they don’t realize that capital has the ability to go elsewhere. I mean, we all love New York. I love New York! But it cannot be run by people that are not pro-America, pro-New York City, and pro-capitalism.
Mr. Jekielek: OK, that’s interesting, you said, pro-America. What does that actually mean to you?
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, I think pro-America is we take care of American citizens first. We take care of all Americans first. In other words, American citizens first, people that are in America and they are working for America, like DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] people, we take care of them too. But we can’t take care of the rest of the world before we take care of the American people.
Some of these people calling themselves progressives, I have a new word for them. They’re not progressives, they are regressives. They are taking our country backwards. They are taking our city definitely backwards.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me about that. How exactly are these progressive policies, as you describe them, taking New York City backwards?
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, the word progressive—they use the word progressive, saying that “We’re gonna make it a better city.” Well, they know how to use the right adjectives. Like, they know how to use the adjective Black Lives Matter.
Look, I’m from Harlem. I care about the people in Harlem. I’ve always cared about them. That’s why I ran as a liberal, in addition to running as a Republican. They don’t care about the people of the inner city. They want to defund the police. We support the New York City police. The people in Harlem, I have talked to the people in Harlem, they want to be able to dial 911 and get police support. They can’t dial BLM (Black Lives Matter) and get support from them!
Let’s tell the truth—progressives are not progressing our city. They’re taking it backwards. They’re taking it backwards to the days when we were worried about the radios in our cars because somebody’s going to break into them. We’re losing NYPD people, they’re retiring and going elsewhere. They’re going to Texas; they’re going to Florida. They’re going elsewhere where they’re more appreciated than the police department is in New York City, because of what’s going on.
And I want to get back to—look, we had the greatest city in the world! Mayor Giuliani did a great job. Mayor Bloomberg did a good job. I respected Mayor Dinkins because under his administration—and he just passed away—he ordered 5,000 new cops. It was under his administration, and it did happen.
I respect politicians with common sense and caring about our citizens and caring about the people. I do not respect politicians that call themselves progressives, but they’re actually regressives, taking Rikers Island. Rikers Island went from 10,000 population, which is our city jail, and they put them onto the streets of New York.
If you talk to, like Randy Mastro, who was the deputy mayor under Mayor Giuliani, we had 30,000 mentally ill people in the hospitals treating them, taking care of them. Well, guess what? We’re down to 3,000. The politicians, the progressives—they’re not progressive; [they’re] regressives—they took those people and threw them onto the streets in New York, and that’s where a lot of the homeless come from.
And instead of putting them in hospitals and treating them—and they deserve treatment, whether they’re veterans that came from overseas, they deserve treatment. We’ve got to take care of those people, not just throw them on the streets and say it’s somebody else’s problem.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’ve talked about the importance of getting the truth out. So what is the truth about New York that isn’t getting out? I mean, aside from what you just talked about.
Mr. Catsimatidis: The truth is, putting all the criminals on the streets in New York and handcuffing the police department instead of the criminals. I’ll give you an example, because I’m very close to what’s going on in New York City. Under Dinkins, under Giuliani, under Bloomberg, if you were caught with a gun in the streets of New York, you went to jail for minimum one year, minimum one year! Even the crooks left their guns home. We had the murder rate down to nothing, down to zilch. Well, Albany, the so called progressives—regressives—passed the law that there’s no bail required for these people.
Well, I’ll give you an example. I had the first deputy commissioner on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. There were 1400 arrests for guns in, like, the last four months. You know how many of them went to jail? Zilch, almost none. And those 1400 people were let out to go and terrorize other citizens again, again and again. If I was mayor, and that’s just if, what would I do? I’d put those people—people committing crimes with guns and knives and threatening our citizens—put them back in Rikers Island, throw away the key for a year. And, you know, we’ll solve the problem of safety in our streets within 48 hours.
I don’t care if you [have] bail for people who had minor offenses, one ounce of pot or whatever, I don’t care! Let them out on the streets. But the people that are committing crimes with guns and knives against the citizens of our city, lock them up and throw the key away.
Mr. Jekielek: John, you host your own radio show, as many of our viewers know. You’ve had some pretty significant guests on recently talking about the 2020 presidential election. So what are you actually seeing in terms of the election as we speak?
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, I spoke to Newt Gingrich from the Vatican. And I said to him, you better go in and light a candle on behalf of our country. Because I’m very, very much concerned about what’s going on in our country. The fact is, we want Americans, all Americans, to have confidence in the system. And right now, as a computer programmer from 50 years ago, I don’t have confidence in the system.
The fact is that if these Dominion systems are only in one or two states, I can live with it. But the fact—I think they’re in almost 27 states. If it’s being corrupted, if the computer is sending the votes overseas, to Germany, to Spain, and they have the ability to change numbers, it is very, very, very concerning. Whether it gets fixed, or whether it gets done before January 20, I don’t know. But the system has to be done and fixed before our next elections.
And I don’t believe right now, even though I was a big believer in computerizing our voting system, I am now not a believer in computerizing our voting system. Until we know what the heck is going on, I do believe we should go back to the old fashioned ways, whether it’s paper ballots where they can be confirmed, or whether there are the old fashioned machines that the problem could be in a few machines, not in the entire system. If the problem does exist, and it’s in 27 states, it is a very, very concerning problem.
Mr. Jekielek: John, there is actually a big election coming even prior to January 23. You mentioned January 5 in Georgia. And in Georgia, right now, there’s all sorts of questions, we just saw that a judge had basically blocked the wiping of these machines that you’ve been describing, then authorized it, and then went back, I think, in the middle of the night here to block it again. And, of course, there’s two Senate seats up for grabs on the 5th.
Mr. Catsimatidis: I spoke to, on my Sunday show a couple days ago, I spoke to Newt Gingrich. He’s from Georgia originally. And he is very, very concerned that the right numbers get attached. I also spoke to Congressman Collins who’s in charge of the GOP counting system, he is very much concerned.
Look, I don’t care who wins. Man, well, I do care, but I think having an honest system is more important than who wins. And I think the American people deserve an honest system. We do not deserve to be considered a third world country. We do not deserve to have people with, maybe less than a college education or whatever, believe that the system is infallible, because it’s not infallible. If computers can be changed, and if the numbers can be changed, we have a third world country here.
Mr. Jekielek: So what would it take for you at this point? You’re concerned. As you mentioned, there’s millions of Americans that are concerned. What would it take for you to feel confident for how the election was decided?
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, right now what I have told in my company policy and what I’ve told everybody is that let’s go through all the systems that are in place right now. I talked to Senator [Joe] Lieberman when he was with Al Gore, and they went through almost mid December. Let’s go through all the processes. Let’s go through the court system. I hope that the FBI is looking into it. I hope that the Department of Justice is looking into it.
And we have to make sure that the American people have confidence in the system. Because if we don’t have confidence, 50 years later, we’ll still be talking about it like we talk about the Kennedy assassination. There’s probably 80% of the people in our country [that] don’t feel that Oswald killed Kennedy, or [that] somebody else did in addition.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s talk a little bit about some of these different narratives that are out there about the election. So, at least initially, all sorts of media companies, corporate media and so forth, are saying, “Well, it’s very clear. Joe Biden is the president-elect”, and so forth. And then on the other side, you have the Trump campaign, you have Sidney Powell and her team is separate from that, having all sorts of exhibits, all sorts of sworn testimony that suggests that there was manipulation happening. I want to talk about how all this stuff is being portrayed and the role of media in all of this and messaging.
Mr. Catsimatidis: I go back—I’m older than you—to the days of Walter Cronkite, where 92% of the American people believed what Walter Cronkite had to say. And right now, I don’t think that 10% of the American people believe what the media has to say. And it’s not up to CNN or Fox to determine the president-elect, it’s up to the electors. I spoke to Alan Dershowitz, and the definition of president-elect is after the electoral college actually elects the president-elect. It’s not up to Fox; it’s not up to CNN; it’s not up to MSNBC. So the facts are the facts.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve expressed some considerable, I guess, unhappiness with the way the media are operating or these large corporate media are operating in general. I wanted to give you a chance to speak to that.
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, I am a big believer that the media, if they’re calling themselves a news station, have to say news. If they’re strictly reporting opinions of reporters, or opinions of upper management, then it’s wrong. I’ve talked to the Poynter Institute in Tampa, and we want truth in our news media.
When Dershowitz sued CNN for not telling the truth, I gave him legal advice on the air. My legal advice to Dershowitz was, you don’t sue CNN, sue the board of directors of AT&T for not making sure that their people are telling the truth. And it seems that could work, because I think Zuckerberg’s job is in question now.
Mr. Jekielek: So that is in one instance. One of the things we talked offline when we were speaking a bit earlier was about this whole Hunter Biden laptop situation, the Bobulinski emails. There was considerable information that was disclosed back in October about, certainly allegations of potentially corrupt behavior. Certainly allegations of money exchanging hands that at least required some scrutiny, but it didn’t necessarily get the scrutiny it deserved.
Mr. Catsimatidis: I am very, very much concerned with how business is done in Washington in our country. I’m very much concerned that there’s too much foreign money involved. And where does it stop? I am very much concerned that large corporations are controlling the opinions of the network’s, whether it’s ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC.
And the other concern I have is what the new media companies—the new media companies being Facebook, Twitter, Google—what controls they have over what the American people learn. And the hundreds of millions of dollars. There’s been accusations that some of the media executives from Twitter and those companies have invested in, are paid to control the opinions of the American people. Well, if the American people could only contribute $2800 to a senator, but Twitter or Google or Facebook could control the opinion in that state of 10 million people. That is concerning; that is mind boggling.
I believe we have to get down to the truth, whatever the truth is, whether it’s President Trump or whether it’s Joe Biden, I think knowing the truth is more important. I’m not against Joe Biden. I’ve known Joe Biden for 30 years. I’m not against him. But I’m concerned that the American people are not getting the truth.
Mr. Jekielek: You know, another thing that we were discussing when we were speaking offline is actually this I guess you would call it “cancel culture”, or, I think you described it as a mob deciding on what is acceptable to think and what isn’t.
Mr. Catsimatidis: I had many friends that have said to me, “Well, I’m glad Joe Biden has won because there won’t be riots in the streets.” My God! That is so… I mean, our veterans fought World War I, World War II. Because we’re scared of a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand mobs in the streets, they’re going to control public opinion? That’s 110 percent wrong!
Mr. Jekielek: John Catsimatidis such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Catsimatidis: Well, thank you for having me. And, like I said, the most important thing is that the American people believe we have a fair system and that our election system is fair and square. And we don’t make up like a third world country, like Venezuela.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.