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5.20.21   1:30 PM

Fernando Mateo knows that most people don’t think a Republican can become mayor of New York City.

Mateo is the only conservative candidates to be running for mayor (aside from Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa), and says that New Yorkers are fed up with seven years of a Democrat mayor. He brands himself as not your typical Republican — in his words, he’s an “urban Republican.” The former businessman and activist has said that he voted for Trump in 2020, but no longer supports him after January’s Capitol riots.

As the primaries for both parties edges closer (June 22), Mateo is keeping his focus on what he sees as the key issues: public safety, employment, and small businesses.

As a small business owner himself, Mateo ran into controversy around a Washington Heights restaurant he co-owned, La Marina, which was hit with violations ranging from serving alcohol to minors to permitting drug trafficking back in 2018. Since then, he’s turned his attention to activism and politics, donating to several campaigns, including those of Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg.

Mateo spoke about his plans for the city’s small businesses, how he’ll incentivize startups to come to New York, and why he thinks the city needs another Republican mayor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

  • Public safety and defunding the police


    The Business of Business: You’re a self-described serial entrepreneur and businessman. How has entrepreneurship prepared you for a political career?

    Fernando Mateo: Well, since I've never been into politics, I dealt with politicians, but I've never really ran for office, because I had better things to do. But considering where we were, where our city is sitting at this point, where we are at this point, we need to make a change. We need to create and bring back the city that we once had, not the city that we have today. The garbage, the graffiti, the crime — everything that's going on in the city right now is just not right. And we need to fix it.

    I saw an interview where you said that one of your top priorities are the economy and small businesses.

    My number one priority is public safety. My number one priority is bringing the respect back to our men and women in blue. My number one priority is making sure that every free New York City resident feels safe when getting into the subway, when going to work, when just simply hanging out in the city. Right now you never know where you'll be safe and where you won't be safe. And that's a problem for me and a problem for all New Yorkers.

    And what do you plan to do to make those changes?

    I would like to hire a few thousand more police officers. I would like to have two police officers on every MTA platform. I would like to have enough police officers on our streets where all of our businesses can interact with them. Our kids can interact with our police officers. And I want to make sure that we get the respect back to our men and women in blue. 

    “I will never defund the police. I will never take away resources from the agency that keeps us all safe.”

    I believe that right now, at this point, we have no respect for our law enforcement officers. And they're human beings, they're citizens like we are. The difference is that they put on a uniform, and they're out to serve and protect. And New Yorkers have turned their backs on our police officers as well as the leader of this city, which is the mayor. So I want to make sure that we're able to bring all that back into our city and recruit more police officers, so that we can assure every New Yorker that when they go out to a restaurant, to shop, to just walk around, that they will be safe, because there will be police presence. 

    I will never defund the police. I will never take away resources from the agency that keeps us all safe. Whenever we have a problem, the first thing we do is we call the police. If they're not there to respond, then we don't have a police department, then we don't have a city that's responding. And I want to make sure that we have a city that is responsive to all New Yorkers, whenever they need help.

  • Small businesses and the pandemic


    Aside from public safety, the economy is a huge priority for you.

    Our economy and our small businesses. Yeah, the first thing we let them know is that every city agency will work for them and not against them the way it is right now. I want to make sure that small businesses that come to New York City to either reopen or open a new business gets exactly what Amazon was being offered, which was 30 years of payroll tax incentives, payroll tax breaks. We won't create 25,000 jobs, we will create 500,000 jobs by motivating 50,000 small businesses to come back to New York City. We need to use our money wisely. And we need to spend it wisely. You don't give away $3 billion for 25,000 jobs, I would give $3 billion for a half million jobs and 50,000 new small businesses, because small businesses are the backbone of this city. They are the ones that keep us afloat in bad times, and in good times. 

    “I will be a mayor that's true to the facts, and true to the issues. And I will make changes that will certainly bring businesses back to New York.”

    But right now, anyone who takes a risk in New York City is perceived to be an enemy, is perceived to be a target of New York City politics — politics and policies. I am not a policy guy. I will never be a policy mayor. I will be a mayor that's true to the facts, and true to the issues. And I will make changes that will certainly bring businesses back to New York.

    What do you think of Mayor de Blasio's handling of the closures of all these small businesses during the pandemic? Do you think he could have done more?

    Mayor de Blasio is a loser. Mayor de Blasio is not a leader. It's a shame that we have to call him mayor. It's a shame that he has a title of his honor, because he has none of the above. This is the worst mayor in my lifetime. And I don't want to speak about him, because he's irrelevant. At this point he’s out. Thank God, there will be no more de Blasio after 2021. 

    And we've got to make sure that another de Blasio doesn't step into office and support or continue his policies. Because if that's the case, we are in real trouble. That's why I'm running for mayor. And I'm an urban Republican. And as an urban Republican, I will change the course of the city for the better, of course.

  • Being a Republican mayor in New York


    What are your thoughts on Giuliani and Bloomberg,  the last conservative mayors of New York?

    The best years of our — of my lifetime were the 20 years that we had Giuliani and Bloomberg. They were the best 20 years, not only for me, as a businessman, as someone that has employed thousands of people in New York City, but it was the best 20 years that our city has experienced. And Democrats are not dumb people, they're smart. And they will know, and they will react in the general elections. And they will vote against the policies of the Democratic Party and they will vote for me. They will vote for a Republican, a real republican that can bring changes and opportunity, compassion and hard work to New York City.

    New York is known for being a primarily Democrat city — how do you plan on taking on a liberal opponent in a city full of democrats should you win the primary?

    They say that because they control the airwaves, they control the narratives. But they don't control the people. The people will decide otherwise, the people are fed up with what's going on in New York City, and what's going on in the country. And they will vote against the establishment, which is the Democratic establishment. 

    You know, I don't understand how media outlets can endorse a candidate without listening to all of the candidates, regardless of parties. But it goes to show that it's all a game. It's all a political game. And we will overcome that. I will be your next mayor. Because I am the only common sense person that you could vote for. 

    If you take three Democratic candidates in this run for the mayor for the mayorship, and you put them all in a blender, and you pour them out, none of them have done 10% of what I've done for New York City. I have been a civil servant for New York City for the last 30 years. It started back in 1989 when I started the Mateo Institute of Training at Rikers Island, and I taught, trained and employed first time nonviolent offenders. It then continued with Toys for Guns, a program that I initiated in 1993, that got thousands of guns off the New York city streets. Then it went on to the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, where I saved thousands of lives of taxi drivers throughout New York City. And then, of course, it extended over to the United Bodegas of America, where we saved thousands of lives of bodega owners and their clerks, and avoided many robberies and looting. 

    So I've been working for New York City for the last 30 years, where have they been? What have they done? Most candidates that are running for mayor have never met payroll. They've never paid rent, or workman's compensation. They've never been through the struggles that a small business person in New York City goes through. So how could you run the largest city in the world? When you've never run a small business? It makes no sense. That's why I am the true candidate. And that's why I will win the election in New York City in 2021.

    You mentioned taxi drivers. Obviously, they've had a terrible time now during the pandemic for different reasons, for finding work and making ends meet. People not going places and people taking Ubers instead — what do you plan on doing for yellow cab drivers?

    Ubers are taxi drivers, and Lyfts are taxi drivers. And then you have the yellow cab industry. The yellow cab industry has been a victim of New York City. It's New York City where a publicly held company, all of the principals would have been in jail for what they did to the yellow medallion cab industry. They sold overpriced tin to these drivers, and their medallions are devalued. And as mayor, I would make sure that I give them back the difference of what they paid and what the medallions are worth. Because it was highway robbery. They took them for a ride. And I will fix that.

  • Incentivizing startups and employing kids under 18


    Another big concern is the state of startups in New York. Obviously, they are now tech hubs like Miami and Austin, and they're being hailed as the new Silicon Valley. What do you plan to do to bring in startups to New York and garner that reputation here?

    Very simple. The mayor has a very powerful voice. I would invite every small business across the country, across the world, every major city to come to New York. I want to invite them to be part of what New York is all about: Building, rebuilding, and succeeding. I will have their back, I will make sure that every small business that comes and takes a risk and invests in New York succeeds. 

    I will get every city agency to work with them, to support them. And to be there whenever they need advice or support. And that's how you build a world class economy, one at a time, one business at a time. And that's how I will do it.

    Speaking of small businesses and employment, you mentioned that you want to give kids under 18 part-time jobs after school. What's your reasoning behind that policy? And how do you plan on implementing that?

    It's called Alpha Tracks. And what we're going to do is make sure that every child from the age of 14 to 18 has an opportunity to prosper, an opportunity to go out and get a job, whether it's in corporate America, in the technology sector, hospitality sector. Whether it’s a small business, or whether it's in a simple city agency, we want to make sure that our teenagers have an opportunity to see the other side of the world, not just what's going on in their communities. 

    I want to make sure, like myself, I dropped out of school when I was 14 years old. And I was adopted by a Jewish family. And I was taught the values of hard work. And I was taught that I am never second to anyone, that I am always number one, if I'm willing to work hard and achieve success. And that is what I would instill in our kids 14 through 18 years old. Alpha Tracks will absolutely guarantee them a job after school all year round. And I will make sure that we can direct them in the right direction. 

    Let's not forget that a 14-year-old in seven years will be 21. And an 18-year-old in three years will be 21. And if we don't grab them now when we can, show them the difference between right and wrong, and show them the difference between earning or just receiving, we will have a huge problem on our hands. And that's what's been going on for years and years and years. We've never addressed the issue of our youth.

    Do you plan on partnering with small businesses that are independent? Or are these jobs going to be through city agencies?

    No, our plan is to make sure that our schools connect with corporate America, connect with small businesses and connect with city agencies and allow every child after the age of 14 to apply for a job in whatever area they believe they want to go into. And by doing that, you're giving them the possibilities that they currently don't have. We need to get them out of their neighborhoods and we need to get them to understand what the real world is about. It happened to me and I became very successful. So I'm using myself as an example of what the possibilities are and what the possibilities can be.

  • The mayor’s greatest challenges


    If you are elected mayor, you'll have 300,000 people under you working for the city. How would you describe your management style?

    I expect results. I make sure that I've got amazing, great management. I have an idea to hire great managers for all my businesses. And once you have good leadership, you will have amazing followers, you will have followers that will follow your directive and make sure that they execute what you want done. And as mayor, I will make sure that I have the best in the right positions, the best in every city agency that understands will need to trickle down. It's not micromanaging, that doesn't work. It's about having great management. And I'm the only one, the only candidate that has that type of experience.

    What do you see as your greatest challenge? If you were elected, what is the biggest hurdle that you would face at the beginning?

    My biggest hurdle is the City Council. But you know what, I'm a communicator. I will make sure that the city council understands common sense government, I will hold their feet to the fire. And I will go into every community in this city. And I will ask them directly to support me. I will ask them for their confidence in my leadership. And if they elect me mayor, that's a step in the right direction. That's one huge problem out of the way. Now, let's get down to business. Let's focus on our problems, how we get them fixed. And we don't always have to be politically correct. We may not be everything to everyone. But we will be everything to those that want a better New York. And that's what it's all about. A better New York.

    I would like everyone to know that I will work 24/7, day and night to make our city better, safer, economically strong and viable for our young. I will promise our kids that they will see a better future in my administration.

    Well, excellent. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk.

    I’d like for everyone to go to and chip in to help me be the next mayor of New York City. Thank you very much.

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