Here’s an article from The New York Times on the mixed bag that is Curtis Sliwa.
It’s hard for me to be impartial because we’re friends (distant friends, but still friends). I freely confess to being prone to dismissing his wrongdoing as venial shenanigans and dumb, regrettable shit of the kind everybody does. He just did a lot of it, over and over again, in the public eye. But hey. Nobody’s perfect.
Sorry to namedrop, but he reminds me a bit of Christopher Hitchens, another friend of mine with a checkered past. I acknowledge that many of the criticisms made of both of them are entirely fair. But when you’re as much fun to hang out with as Christopher Hitchens or Curtis Sliwa, you acquire a kind of minor immunity from moral judgment as a result. (That’s a joke, I think.)
The one thing I will say in unequivocal defense of Curtis is that he was one of a tiny handful of people who got the 9/11 celebration rumors exactly right, and saw the importance of employing ruthless, persistent precision in discussing them: he denounced the rumors forthrightly as a lie while acknowledging that there was a (tiny) grain of truth to them. There were no mass celebrations of 9/11 anywhere in New Jersey, but a small handful of kids in Paterson did make a disturbance in the 900 block of South Main Street that was wrongly interpreted as a celebration. Here he is in the photo below with his friend Noam Laden and a reporter, defending the honor of Paterson, New Jersey over hummus at Al Basha’s on South Main Street (“Explore a Taste of Ramallah”–even if it’s only take-out).
I may be the only person on the planet to have done the years of fieldwork that pins down what happened in Paterson on 9/11. But Curtis was there before me, and he got it right before anyone. He was there to attack Paterson’s Democratic establishment for denying the very possibility of the mini-disturbance, and he was there to attack Donald Trump & Co. for cynically exploiting the Big Celebration Rumor Lie during Trump’s presidential campaign in the fall of 2015. Everyone, Left and Right, attacked Sliwa as a pseudo-journalist, a has-been, and a “vigilante.” But none of them had the street cred he had to get the story straight.
His politics are not mine, and I probably wouldn’t vote for him for mayor even if I lived in New York. But he’s a great guy to hang out with, and far more knowledgeable and intelligent than he gets credit for in the mainstream media (though his own shenanigans tend to distract attention from his smarts). So he gets my vote for all that. Character-based voting at its finest, albeit not for political office.
PS. I can’t resist mentioning that the barbershop pictured in the Times article is the one where my late wife Alison used to get her hair cut.