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Billionaire Candidate One-Ups Mayor, Says He'll Work for 99 Cents a Year

By Jill Colvin | January 29, 2013 8:14pm

CITY HALL — He's taking his cues straight from a Gristedes catalog.

Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis officially launched his bid for mayor on Tuesday, vowing to one-up Mayor Michael Bloomberg by becoming the worst-paid executive in City Hall.

“I’m going to work cheaper than Mayor Bloomberg, who's working for a $1," Catsimatidis said. "I was a grocer. I'll work for 99 cents!"

Standing on the steps of City Hall surrounded by supporters and his family, Catsimatidis painted himself as a Clinton Democrat-turned-Romney Republican who wanted to build on Bloomberg's legacy with big ideas.

“I want to give back to the city — it’s the only reason," he said of the motivation behind his bid. "Making another billion dollars doesn’t mean anything. I want to help New York stay on top."

Catsimatidis, who had considered running for mayor in 2009 but quietly dropped out of the race when Bloomberg made his move to run for a third term, praised the current mayor as someone who has "done a lot of great things for New York."

But the owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain, who ranked 132nd on Forbes' 2012 "Richest People in America List," said that he would run the city differently, proudly declaring that he is "not a Mike Bloomberg billionaire," and pointing to his dress as proof.

"I'm not wearing a $5,000 suit," he said, claiming he'd purchased his jacket for just $99 at Jos. A. Bank. (His cufflinks, he later admitted, were a little fancier: They were given to him by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as a birthday present.)

Also unlike Bloomberg, he only wants to serve one four-year term if elected — unless, of course, “we don’t have a good replacement," he said.

Catsimatidis said he believes in gay marriage and is against congestion pricing, and considers himself a champion of both businesses and residents. He also ran through some of his plans for office, including the revival of the “big wow" — a World's Fair.

Catsimatidis also admitted that he considers himself a union guy, from his days as a member, and said that, if he were mayor, he would have been able to reach deals with the teachers' and bus drivers' union on a teacher evaluation system and new contracts to avert the school bus strike.

The key, he said, is locking both sides in a room with pizza and not letting them out.

"By four in the morning... after you eat the third pie of pizza, boy you get more reasonable,” he said.

Asked to asses his chief Republican rival, former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, whom many see as the early frontrunner, Catsimatidis said that Lhota was well-qualified, but lacked his status as a "visionary."

“There’s a difference between a visionary and a maintenance person," Catsimatidis said.

He also defended his switch to the Republican party, and said the one thing that has frustrated him most about Barack Obama's presidency is what he perceives as a growing  resentment of the rich.

“Every morning I woke up, I was being attacked for being a successful American,” he said.

Catsimatidis, who has already put $1 million of his own money in his campaign coffers, also said he's willing to spend whatever it takes to get elected, if things go well.

“If it’s going our direction, we’ll spend whatever we have to spend,” he said. “It’s my investment in New York.”

And despite his relatively late arrival into the race, Catsimatidis said he was confident.

“I’m in it to win it,” he said. "I would not be having this press conference if I wasn't going to win."

The ballooning Republican field also includes Doe Fund founder George McDonald and Manhattan Media CEO Tom Allon.