West Harlem’s John A. Catsimatidis, 1948 –

July 23, 2017

John A. Catsimatidis, born September 7, 1948 is a Greek-American billionaire businessman and radio talk show host. He is the owner, president, chairman, and CEO of Gristedes Foods, the largest grocery chain in Manhattan, and the Red Apple Group, a real estate and aviation company with about $700 million to $800 million in holdings in New York, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Catsimatidis also owns the Hellenic Times, a Greek-American newspaper based in Manhattan. He is also the chairman and CEO of the Red Apple Group subsidiary United Refining Company. He hosts a talk-radio show on WNYM.

Catsimatidis unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for mayor of New York City in the 2013 election.

John Catsimatidis was born on the Greek island of Nisyros on September 7, 1948. He came to the United States with his parents when he was six months old.

The family moved to 135th Street in West Harlem, where Catsimatidis grew up. Catsimatidis’ father had been a lighthouse operator in Greece but worked as a busboy in New York.

The family moved to 135th Street in West Harlem, where Catsimatidis grew up. Catsimatidis’ father had been a lighthouse operator in Greece but worked as a busboy in New York. Catsimatidis graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1966. He received a congressional nomination to West Point, but chose to study electrical engineering at New York University instead.

While in college, Catsimatidis worked for the uncle of a friend, Tony, in a small supermarket on 137th Street which Tony and his uncle owned. While Catsimatidis was still in college, Tony sold his half of the store to Catsimatidis. Catsimatidis completed four years of college, but dropped out eight credits short of graduating.

In 1971, Catsimatidis opened his first store, at Broadway and 99th Street. Shortly thereafter, he purchased another grocery store on 87th street just west of Broadway, naming it Red Apple. Among his business innovations were staying open late seven days a week, offering free delivery, and cashing checks for customers. Catsimatidis has stated that by the time he was 24 years old, “I built up ten stores and the business was doing $25 million a year, and I was personally earning a million dollars a year.”

By the summer of 1981, Red Apple had 27 stores in the Bronx and Manhattan, with annual sales of around $40 million. These grew to $110 million in sales in 1985.

In 1986, Red Apple purchased 36 Gristedes supermarkets and 11 affiliated Charles & Co. specialty-food stores from the Southland Corporation. In 2009, it was reported that Catsimatidis’s “main holdings include 50 Gristedes supermarkets, 371 gas stations in three states, $500 million in real estate, and an expanding oil business.”

In 1986, Catsimatidis acquired United Refining Co., the owner of gasoline refineries in Pennsylvania and Alabama. In October 2009, Forbes Magazine reported that United Refining Energy Corp., a publicly traded special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) sponsored by United Refining, was purchasing “privately held Chaparral Energy in a deal worth roughly $1.6 billion.” However, United Refining Energy Corp. shareholders did not approve the deal and it was terminated in December 2009.

In 2015, the Red Apple Group ranked 156th on Forbes magazine‘s list of “America’s largest private companies” with revenue of $3 billion and 8,000 employees. (This compares to its 2008 and 2009 rank, both at #100, 2010 at #78, 2011 at 98th, and 2012 at 97th).

In 2008, Catsimatidis became engaged in efforts to take over SemGroup LP, a bankrupt oil, gas, and asphalt trading, storage and transportation company, headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Catsimatidis gained control over a majority of the company’s management committee, but his efforts were met by opposition from the company’s existing management, who argued for selling off at least some of the company’s assets, while Catsimatidis stated his intention to keep the company together. In February 2009, Catsimatidis was sued by a group of SemGroup executives, who sought the removal of Catsimatidis and his allies from the committee. In July Catsimatidis reached a settlement with SemGroup, pursuant to which he acquired a piece of SemGroup’s asphalt business and dropped his competing plan for the company’s proposed reorganization.

Catsimatidis and his wife have made contributions to a variety of both Republican and Democratic campaigns. Among Republicans, the Catsimatidises contributed over $60,000 to the Republican National Committee, and have also made significant contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, Mitt Romney, Eric Cantor, Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, and others. Among Democrats handful of Democratic campaigns, including to Carolyn B. Maloney, Charlie Rangel, and Jerrold Nadler. In local New York City races, Catsimatidis has given to Bill de Blasio (while he was a city councilman), Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. In the 1992 Democratic presidential primaries, Catsimatidis contributed $150,000 to the campaign of fellow Greek American Paul Tsongas.

Catsimatidis put on a fundraiser in 2006 with Michael Bloomberg for Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to support his third party run as an independent after he lost the Democratic primary nomination for reelection to the Senate.

Catsimatidis has been described as a “longtime,” “loyal,” and “high-level Clinton donor.” Catsimatidis donated a significant sum to the Clinton Presidential Center, thought to be between $100,000 and $500,000. Catsimatidis was a member of Hillary Clinton’s finance team during her 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, stating in February 2007 of Clinton: “She’s unstoppable. She’s got such a machine.” Catsimatidis hosted a number of fundraising dinners with Bill Clinton at his home in New York that in total raised well in excess of $750,000 for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Catsimatidis has stated that he is friends with [easyazon_link identifier=”0375414576″ locale=”US” tag=”harlemworld-20″]Bill Clinton[/easyazon_link] and that the former president “often” has flown in one of Catsimatidis’ two airplanes. Hillary Clinton attended Catsimatidis’ daughter’s wedding.

Catsimatidis has stated that the U.S. presidents he most admires are John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He has said that the New York City mayor whom he most admires is Fiorello H. La Guardia.

Here’s the John Catsimatidis A Mayor for Every New Yorker video:

In 2015, press reports indicated he donated the use of a chartered jet valued at $70,000 to the Republican primary campaign of Scott Walker.

In the 2015 Forbes 400 “richest people in America” list, Catsimatidis ranked 182nd, with a personal net worth estimated at $3.4 billion; in the Forbes list of global billionaires, he ranked #577 Billionaires.

A donor to Bill Clinton during the Clinton years, Catsimatidis, while still enrolled as a Democrat, considered becoming a candidate in the 2009 mayoral election as a Republican. In May 2007, he was reported to be “systematically wooing local Republicans,” attending various Republican fundraisers in Queens and Staten Island and stating that he would “probably have a press conference” to announce his intentions “sooner rather than later” and would consider spending between $30 million and $40 million if he ran.

In 2008, Catsimatidis was widely viewed as a potential mayoral candidate, along with City Council Speaker [easyazon_link identifier=”0062232460″ locale=”US” tag=”harlemworld-20″]Christine Quinn[/easyazon_link], Representative Anthony Weiner, businessman Richard Parsons, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, City Comptroller Bill Thompson (the eventual Democratic nominee), and state Senator Martin Golden. By July 2008, Catsimatidis formed an exploratory committee of advisors and operatives, including Robert Ryan, Alan Bernikow, Lawrence Mandelker, and Jose Ithier.[28] McLaughlin & Associates was the committee’s polling firm.

In 2009, Catsimatidis spent nearly $300,000, much of it on polls and consultants, to explore a candidacy. He said he only agreed to drop out after Bloomberg informed him of his plans to seek a third term. Once the city term limits law was changed to allow Bloomberg to run for a third term, Catsimatidis quietly withdrew. The exploratory committee was officially shut down in May 2009.

During the spring of 2012, Catsimatidis described his dismay over the quality of the announced as well as the presumed candidates. He suggested that he would support New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, but when Kelly repeatedly denied any intention to run, Catsimatidis expressed his own interest.

In December 2012, Catsimatidis established an exploratory committee to consider running for mayor. He also filed paperwork with the New York City Campaign Finance Board on January 3, 2013. Shortly afterward, he told the New York Post that he had just written his own check for one million dollars to seed his campaign.

Catsimatidis made his official announcement at City Hall on January 29, 2013, vowing to be “a leader for Harlem and Wall Street.” He stated “I’m not a Mike Bloomberg billionaire. I’m not wearing a $5,000 suit.” Through May 15, Catsimatidis (a self-financed candidate) had spent $880,000 on the campaign, mostly on television and radio ads, but also on billboards and items including lip balm and groceries. He hired a campaign consulting firm, Millennial Strategies LLC, that mostly works on Democratic campaigns.

On a December 13 appearance on Inside City Hall, Catsimatidis compared raising taxes on the wealthy to how “Hitler punished the Jews,” a remark which surprised host Josh Robin.

Catsimatidis expressed support for the New York City stop-and-frisk program, and two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, his campaign ran a radio ad attacking “career politicians want to end stop and frisk and cut the NYPD’s powers of surveillance.” At a candidates’ forum Catsimatidis suggested that “a robot” or other future technology would make the stop-and-frisk program unnecessary in the future, but stated that until that time the program should continue.

At campaign events in April, Catsimatidis claimed that he could have beaten Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election and got into a contentious exchange with various Republican audience members, telling one to “go bullshit yourself if you want!” A spokesman for the Lhota campaign stated that “anyone running for mayor should be able to offer substantive ideas and solutions to our city’s problems without engaging in irrational and antagonistic exchanges with voters.”

On May 13, the New York Post ran a story on Catsimatidis’ comment in a 1989 Crain’s New York Business profile in which he stated “I’m a Manhattanite. I feel sorry for those people who aren’t.” Catsimatidis’s remark was criticized by Republican Guy Molinari, the former Staten Island borough president and congressman, and Brooklyn Democratic councilman Lew Fidler, who called Catsimatidis a “Manhattan elitist.”

Among the “off-the-cuff—and off-beat—policy proposals” that Catsimatidis has suggested during the campaign include giving police tricycles to improve mobility, allowing casinos in hotels, and launching a program to give free pet food to people who adopt homeless animals. Catsimatidis’s economic proposals include a revival of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The New York Times reported that Catsimatidis “struck an odd note when discussing education policy, expressing unease about the makeup of his daughter’s graduating class from New York University’s Stern School of Business,” stating that “I think close to 480 of the 580 were Asian — Asian including India. And, it was scary. And then when you think about it, we’re going to deport most of these kids.”

Catsimatidis has called for street vendors to be limited to certain areas, and a prohibiting on setting up within 300–500 feet of stores selling the same products, complaining at a candidates’ forum that “We have cart people right in front of our doorstep. They’re selling bananas for half price in front of my own stores. That is wrong.”

In the September 2013 Republican primary, Catsimatidis lost to Joseph J. Lhota, receiving 24,864 votes to Lhota’s 32,236 votes. Although he lost, Catsimatidis did carry the borough of Staten Island.

Catsimatidis could have chosen to contest the general election on two other ballot lines (that of the Liberal Party of New York and another third-party line he created in summer 2013), but two days after his primary, he announced that he would withdraw from the race.

On October 2, 1988, Catsimatidis married Margo Vondersaar at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York. Margo met Catsimatidis when she was his secretary beginning in 1972. Catsimatidis had a previous marriage that ended in divorce and has stated that he was “sometimes” together with Margo while still married to his first wife. At the time of their marriage, Margo led her own advertising agency, MCV Advertising Associates in New York, and was president of The Hellenic Times.

Catsimatidis and his wife have two children, Andrea and John Jr. Andrea graduated from New York University, and married Christopher Cox, grandson of former President Richard Nixon, on June 4, 2011, at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, “before a church packed with family members and political powerhouses,” including Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Rudolph Giuliani, Charles Schumer, Ray Kelly, and Robert M. Morgenthau. An elaborate black-tie wedding reception for 700 guests was held at the Waldorf-Astoria. Catsimatidis stated that he spent “in excess of $1 million” on the wedding. Senator John McCain of Arizona was not invited, although Cox had worked on his 2008 presidential campaign, because McCain did not endorse Cox when he later ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress. Catsimatidis told the New York Post that “I thought that was low. I was just disgusted.”

Catsimatidis is involved in philanthropy. He is one of the largest donors to the G&P Foundation for Cancer Research He founded and was co-chairman of Brooklyn Tech Endowment Foundation, benefiting his alma mater. Catsimatidis funds the John Catsimatidis Scholarship Fund at the New York University Stern School of Business, which has since 1988 awarded two scholarships each year. Catsimatidis was for five years president of the Manhattan Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He also served on the board of directors of the Police Athletic League of New York City. Catsimatidis was also on the board of directors of the Drum Major Institute.

Other organizations with which Catsimatidis has been active are the National Kidney Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Young Men’s Philanthropic League, and Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Catsimatidis was the vice-chairman of the Ellis Island Awards Foundation of the National Ethnic Coalition Organization (NECO), and received an Ellis Island Medal of Honor from that organization.

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