Mitt Loves N.Y.: John Catsimatidis


With Mitt Romney as its de facto go-to candidate, the roster of Restore Our Future, Romney’s designated Super PAC slush fund, reads like a laundry list of New York City’s wealthiest denizens. And, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and contrary to popular belief, Super PAC’s are receiving a huge majority of their donations from these single individuals rather then enormous corporations.
So, here at the Voice, we’re going to tell you a little bit about our neighbors, one donor at a time:
At the end of April, the rogue millionaire John Paulson had a little gala for Mitt. The guy that raked in on the housing market’s collapse invited the mega-wealth of New York over to his townhouse on East 86th Street to shower Romney with donations.
As sirens blasted outside and security efforts stifled the media, a group of “older white people, mostly men” huddled around the Presidential candidate to talk business.

One of these men was John Catsimatidis. On his own website, Catsimatidis describes himself as the “personification of the American dream.” Dropping out of NYU to throw hope into the supermarket business, Catsimatidis opened his first Red Apple supermarket in the Upper West Side in 1969. In two years time and only 24 years old, he had opened ten across Upper Manhattan and was making $25 million. The rest is investment, real estate and property re-selling history. (According to Forbes, he’s now worth around $2 billion).

And, that night, he told The Daily Beast that he and his fellow profit-seekers were “fighting for the soul of America.” The Voice spoke with Mr. Catsimatidis and asked him what this soul-searching election was really all about.

“Washington is smoking grass,” Catsimatidis told me over the phone, “This [Obama] administration is 100% wrong.”

If you’ve ever done your grocery shopping at a Red Apple or Gristede’s, a fraction of your money has gone into Catsimatidis’s pockets. The Greek-born New Yorker is the owner, founder, President and CEO of the Red Apple Group, a company that ranked #98 on Forbes’s list of America’s largest private companies, placing right behind the Hearst Corporation. Its net worth: 3.8 billion smackers.

So how did Red Apple make all that money with Gristede-level prices? The hodgepodge company is invested in “oil & gas operations (refines oil; convenience stores; real estate; supermarkets” because nothing goes together better than Slim Jim’s and crude oil.

The “oil & gas operations” lies in Catsimatidis’s ownership of United Refining Company – a Pennsylvania-based industrial gas marketer that has a huge operation running out of 823 11th Avenue. The company pushed a profit of $2.3 million in 2009 and continues to ship about 70,000 barrels before you even wake up in the morning.

Over the past few years, Catsimatidis has been throwing around chump change to both Democratic and Republican candidates – from Charles Rangel to Olympia Snowe, the donations range from $1,000 to $2,500. But that’s his individual contributions: when he’s donated to Restore Our Future, he has used the Big Oil guise of United Refining to give over $50,000 to the Republican candidate.

Why? Because, in Catsimatidis’s opinion, the current administration is not oily enough. “Have you ever seen our commercials? Our company [United Refining] brags our gasoline is made from 100% American oil. Trust me, people believe in buying American. Drill more in Canada, the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico – we could turn around our deficit and become completely energy independent.”

Catsimatidis’s main beef with the Oval Office revolves around a European-style gas tax – a proposal that, like many other campaign promises made, Obama has toyed around with half-heartedly. But the petroluem fine has fallen flat on its face in the EPA-killing eyes of a Republican-led House (the grass-smoking Washington that Catsimatidis was referring to before). Whether it will proliferate in the coming years or not, the millionaire is convinced that a Romney administration will simply “do better” by preventing an excise tax that doesn’t even exist yet.

Hence the $50,000 treasure chest. Start pumping.

Tune in next week for another installment of “Mitt Loves N.Y.” Also, check out past profiles of John A. Griffin and Bruce Kovner. Another week, another donor. Democracy can really hurt sometimes.