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Chicken Cutlets, Rack of Lamb... and the Next Mayor?

By Jill Colvin | March 7, 2013 1:16pm | Updated on March 7, 2013 1:46pm

NEW YORK CITY — It gives new meaning to political pork.

On a full-page Gristedes newspaper ad, above the $1.99 chicken cutlets, $7.99 rack of lamb and $4.99 Jarlsberg cheese wedge, you'll find a picture of Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis' smiling face.

The billionaire supermarket mogul may be a relative unknown to voters, according to polls, but his unmistakable mug has been a fixture in local city newspapers for years, gracing the pages via Gristedes ads that tout the market's deals.

The latest, which ran in the New York Post Wednesday, features a slew of product deals, along with a decades-old photo of the candidate, his name and the slogan "WAR on INFLATION!"

"Does he like the ads? I would say yes, since he's advertising prices," said a campaign spokeswoman of the latest ad.

Similar spots ran in now-Republican candidate Tom Allon's West Side Spirit  when Catsimatidis was first running for mayor in 2008, and were also spotted by the Observer in 2010.

But whether plastering his face alongside cheap produce, Corn Flakes and Bumble Bee tuna will help get Catsimatidis elected remains to be seen.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows the vast majority of New Yorkers — 86 percent — haven't heard enough about the candidate to form an opinion, meaning that his getting his name and face out there are key.

But observers were skeptical.

“It may help him sell spare ribs," quipped Democratic consultant Scott Levenson, who is not working with any of the candidates. He said that Catsimatidis and the Gristedes brand might reinforce each others' negatives.

"The one that I hear most often is disheveled," he said, pointing both to Gristedes stores and the candidate, whose most famous look includes a rumpled suit, wild hair and an askew tie.

Levenson said that it would have made sense for Catsimatidis to update the company's brand before running for mayor.

Especially, as he is running “in a region where Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are dominating market share and represent what is new and clean and innovative and creative in where people go to shop."

Hunter College political scientist Kenneth Sherrill agreed that while name recognition was crucial, featuring Catsimatidis' photo in the ads might backfire.

“If he has it next to slabs of beef, that’s not really the image you want in a mayor," he said, adding that readers will transfer their feelings about Gristedes onto Catsimatidis.

"If they don’t think that Gristedes represents high quality, it’s not going to help Catsimatidis," he said. "He runs the risk that people will associate him with low quality, high prices, and impersonal service."

The Catsimatidis campaign stressed the ad was not affiliated with the campaign, and that staffers were unaware that it had run.

"John has regularly taken ads for his stores before his campaign for mayor and we do not consider this to be campaign related," they said.

Catsimatidis intends to fund the bulk of his own campaign, which exempts him from city-imposed spending caps. But like other candidates, he'll still have to report all the money he spends to the city's Campaign Finance Board.

“Candidates are required to report all spending related to their campaign," a spokesman for the New York City Campaign Finance Board said.

But while the ad is clearly meant to promote Gristedes, the fact that it includes the mayoral candidate's face, name and a slogan that could be read as political could prove problematic, some campaign finance experts said.

Still, Evan Stavisky, a Democratic consultant with the Parkside Group, who is not representing any of the candidates in the race, was skeptical.

"People can try to make hay out of anything," he said. "It seems like a stretch to call that political."

It's not the first time that Catsimatidis' campaign has been linked to Gristedes marketing.

Debbie Millman, president of the design division at the School of Visual Arts, observed that Catsimatidis' early campaign logo actually reminded her of one of the supermarkets' ads.

“It looks like it has a lot in common with a Gristedes weekly flier," she said.