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Supermarket mogul is checking out his options

11:53 am, December 19, 2012

John Catsimatidis

Real estate and supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis just wants what’s best for New York City.

And if that means him being mayor, he’ll gladly take it on.

“I started an exploratory committee,” he told guests at the B’nai B’rith luncheon Dec. 12, addressing rumors of a possible run.

“We’ll take the pulse of the situation; see if New Yorkers want to see another businessman mayor.”

The businessman, who emigrated to the U.S. as a six-month-old with his family from Nisyros, Greece, has built an empire from his very first supermarket on the Upper West Side.

Catsimatidis is chairman of the Red Apple Group, which has real estate holdings in New York, New Jersey and Florida, and owns the Gristedes supermarket chain, United Refining, the Country Fair convenience chain, Red Apple Food Marts, and Kwik Fill gas stations.

He has supported Republicans and Democratics, calls Bill Clinton a friend and, in the same breath, says he’s “a Romney Republican.”

“I think companies and people have to do well for the rest of the people in the community to do well,” he told the luncheon guests. “You can’t beat up business people for doing well, and you can’t beat up banks every day and hope they’ll extend money.”

He said money follows a friendly environment.

“I’ve said to President Obama,‘Why are you beating up banks?’ If someone did something specifically wrong, go after them,” said Catsimatidis, adding that he told NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the same thing.

“New York state is number 50 in the United States in economic development,” he said. “We’re in deep doo-doo unless we do the right things.”

Regardless of politics, Catsimatidis said his ultimate aim is “to get more people in the right positions.”

He praised former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for ridding the city of crime, and Mayor Bloomberg for keeping the city in good financial shape. “My vision for New York is, I don’t want New York to go backwards,” he said.

Catsimatidis touched on a variety of issues during his luncheon address, including his history in business and real estate, pushing for a World’s Fair in 2015, and his championing of transit-oriented construction.

Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Group built the luxury residential rental building at 218 Myrtle Avenue in downtown Brooklyn called The Andrea (a nod to his daughter) and is in the process of building another just down the block. That project will be a mixed-use, one-million square foot building.

“It’s a hot area,” said Catsimatidis, who citing its three subway stations and access to the Long Island Rail Road. “I was pushing transit-oriented real estate back in 2009.”

He suggested legislators give incentives to developers for building near mass transit, which he believes would benefit commerce and consumers and be a win-win all around.

Further south, in Coney Island, plans are underway for Ocean Dreams, a three-tower, 400-unit waterfront apartment complex at the western end of Coney Island’s boardwalk.

Catsamitidis said he’s pressed Mayor Bloomberg to organize a 50th anniversary for the World’s Fair. “We should consider putting something like this together again,” he said, recalling going to the event as a child and being awestruck.

As well as helping the real estate, hospitality and construction industries, it would be a long-term money earner that could generate more money that hosting an Olympics, he said.

His view on the world economy? “What’s happening now is the six or seven central federal banks in the world are, read my lips, acting in concert,” he said. “If one bank does something, the others will follow.”

But back to that political ambition.

When asked about the possibility of facing his friend, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in a mayoral face-off, Catsimatidis said it’s crucial to have one of two things: “You either have to have fame or fortune. I have fortune.”

A lifelong New Yorker and champion of the city since his humble beginnings, Catsimatidis bases his political philosophy on his upbringing.

“You have to be pro-business but also pro-people,” he said. “That’s the way I grew up, that’s the way I am.”

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