“I’ve been in Gracie Mansion before. There is easily room in there for 60 cats,” says Curtis Sliwa, the Republican candidate for New York City mayor, who knows a thing or two about how many pets can fit inside an enclosed space. On the phone from his Upper West Side studio on a rainy afternoon, Sliwa is surrounded by 13 of his 16 cats; the other three are hiding in the closet with his all-red uniforms for the Guardian Angels, the subway vigilante group he founded in 1979.
The campaign spotlight has largely overlooked Sliwa because of the trouncing he will most likely face in November by Democrat Eric Adams: The eight-to-one ratio of cats to humans in the apartment he shares with his wife is almost the same as the city’s ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans. But Sliwa attracted some attention this summer for keeping what is almost definitely an unhealthy amount of animals in a 320-square-foot pad. The image — a shelter’s worth of cats taken care of by the nominee, an aging street brawler in a beret — could be a metaphor for the decline of the GOP in New York since Michael Bloomberg changed his party affiliation in 2007. Or it could just be an example of how many pets is too many: Veterinarians often recommend that owners limit their ranks to around a half-dozen, studio or no. (For what it’s worth, the Adams campaign did not care to comment on whether 16 is an unacceptable number of cats.)
Sliwa doesn’t feel he has crossed a line just yet; after all, he can still name each of his feline roommates. When faced with a pop quiz — “Can you name all 16 of your cats?” — he passed on the first go. “The patriarch is Apollo, the matriarch is Athena, and my very best friend is Ajax,” he rallied. The mythological theme does not hold, however. “Then there’s Drop Foot, Little Big One, Hope, Wolverine, Tuna, Tiny. The newest, four weeks old, that’s Gizmo. Whiskers, Crooked Head because he’s got a crooked head. Let’s see — who’s left? Tiger, Love, Momma, and Homer. I don’t think I left anyone out.” More impressive than the speed at which he scrolled through the directory was that he immediately repeated the feat, à la Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting riffing through the names of his 12 (made-up) brothers.
The sheer number of tabbies and tuxedos creates some logistical problems for a man campaigning about town. In addition to changing the litter three times a day, Sliwa says he and his wife, Nancy, are like “short-order cooks” who have mastered the varied diets of the cats, many of whom were taken in because they have disabilities and were on a list for euthanization. “Ajax is my best buddy,” Sliwa says of this cat, which has a neurological disorder and can take only a few steps before toppling over. “He overcame severe odds to survive. You can really tell he appreciates being alive.” (Sliwa, who almost died in a mob assassination attempt in the ’90s, may be able to relate.) Between discussing the intricacies of his feline health-care routines, he promotes one of the signature policies of his campaign, aside from making the NYPD roughly as large as his 40,000-voter constituency in the primary: the end of kill shelters in the largest city in America.
With Sliwa confident that he can win in the face of great odds, he believes he’ll soon be able to accommodate an even bigger brood. “Oh yeah, there’s room for more,” he says. “That’s why I got to get into Gracie Mansion: to get more room for the cats.”