Curtis Sliwa, — a man of many hats figuratively — the anti-crime activist, founder of the Guardian Angels, radio talk show host and partner of Queens borough president candidate Melinda Katz — and one red beret literally, came to the Forest Hills Community and Civic Organization last week to speak “truth” about power and extol civic involvement.
Sliwa opened his wide-ranging presentation with, “As a new resident of Forest Hills, this is a community that has its act together” and closed with, “I would be proud if my two sons live in a neighborhood where Melinda was born and raised.”
When asked about term limits by resident John Kelly, Sliwa said, “Everybody should have term limits. God has term limits for us — we all die eventually. The president has term limits.”
He added that he wants federal judges to have term limits as well, especially after John Gotti Jr. was acquitted four times on what Sliwa called technicalities for allegedly trying to have him killed inside a taxi cab.
“You can’t sit in a position for years and years,” he said. “We want government to do everything. Government is getting so intrusive because they don’t think we can take care of ourselves. They are taking away the two large Coca-Colas I have every single day.”
Sliwa was critical of mayoral control of schools and said a bill for paid sick leave should be put to a City Council vote.
“I trust people but I don’t trust government,” he said.
Sliwa talked about growing up in the city during the 1960s and ‘70s while the “city was exploding.”
“Lindsay almost single handily ruined our city,” he said, referring to Mayor John Lindsay, who served in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Sliwa grew up in Bronxville, Eastchester and East New York, but mostly in Canarsie, where his mother still lives. His father died at age 89 this past year.
His dad, a former merchant marine, “never backed down.”
“You improve, you don’t move,” he told his son.
His father raised and took down the American flag in front of the house every day.
Canarsie reflected the nation’s melting pot ideal, as “an integrated neighborhood of Irish, Italian, black, and Jew,” Sliwa said. “New York City was like that, especially the outer boroughs.”
“Manhattan makes me feel sterile and incontinent,” he added. “They got the money and the talk [but] the best years were in the outer boroughs.”
Sliwa pumped gas, stocked shelves, and managed a McDonald’s in the Bronx before founding the Guardian Angels.
He said the public schools he went to were better than the Catholic schools. At his civics classes in public school, he recalled, every student had a copy of The New York Times. There were presentations every Friday by former residents who had become successful and they had essay contests. Members of the American Legion would also speak to the class. With them the students cleaned debris and painted over graffiti, and then went to civic meetings to report on their work, as well as discuss it with the class.
“It has to be taught at a young age,” he said of community involvement. “Today’s children are into the wireless technology, they go to pre-, pre-school but they don’t know how to interact.”
“If our children were taught civics, they would know there has to be a bill, a debate, a vote. Kids and people don’t know that. Kids don’t know about separation of power, they just know about Barack Obama,” he said. “Civic organizations need to be expanded to make decisions about the community.”
And he took another slap at Manhattan for “making the decisions for the outer boroughs. We cannot let Manhattan dominate and take control of the outer boroughs.”