Meet Jack Hidary, the Multimillionaire Who Wants To Fill Bloomberg’s Shoes
The 45-year-old tech entrepreneur is on New York City’s ballot this November—but does he have his eyes on the 2017 mayoral race?
At 6 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, the sidewalk outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center on East 42nd Street in Manhattan was alive with volunteers canvassing for candidates in New York City’s mayoral race, who were gathered inside for a forum on cultural sensitivity. The campaigners shouted at passersby, hoping for their votes but getting their disdain in return. They held signs for Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner. They scattered flyers for Bill Thompson and George McDonald. They wore T-shirts for John Liu. But they did nothing for Jack Hidary, the self-made multimillionaire who declared his candidacy in late June.
So far, Hidary—who is running on his own Jobs and Education Party line—doesn’t even rate a mention in the Quinnipiac poll, the standard bellwether of Big Apple politics. But while voters may not yet be acquainted with him, it seems like everyone else is. Inside the Wiesenthal center, Hidary made the rounds, shaking hands and exchanging niceties with Jewish leaders like Jason Koppel, AIPAC’s regional director for New York’s outer boroughs, and Chanina Sperlin, the executive vice chairman of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. When Hidary took a seat on the stage, he smiled at the crowd with confidence. When de Blasio arrived—a fashionable 15 minutes late—he and Hidary exchanged a friendly handshake and back slap. And when Hidary answered the moderators’ questions, his remarks won applause from the crowd and head-nods from his fellow candidates, including McDonald, who told the room that if he were elected mayor, he’d hire Hidary.
But Hidary, who is only 45, is not a man looking for a job in someone else’s administration. Like Michael Bloomberg before him, he is running because he believes having run thriving businesses qualifies him, and maybe overqualifies him, to run one of the largest cities on the planet. But unlike Bloomberg, Hidary—while wealthy—can’t afford to spend $85 million underwriting his own campaign against opponents who have all, with the exception of his fellow businessman John Catsimatidis, spent years building formidable political machines. And he doesn’t have a high-profile backer willing to lend him credibility, as Rudy Giuliani did for Bloomberg. Hidary’s base, to the extent he has one, lies in Brooklyn’s tight-knit Syrian Jewish community—which may not vote as a unified bloc, even for one of their own.
To the casual observer, Hidary’s campaign looks like something of a vanity run—something to tell the grandkids about one day. After all, why invest time and money in a candidacy that’s unlikely to succeed? The answer, ironically, might lie in the career of a candidate running for office further down the ballot: Eliot Spitzer. When he first ran for office, in 1994, Spitzer was a successful attorney with high ambitions and no political background. He was criticized for using his family money in his campaign, for state attorney general, and he ultimately placed last. Just four years later, he was the favorite in the same race, winning two terms before becoming governor in 2007. Until the revelation, in 2008, that he had been patronizing prostitutes, Spitzer was even cited as a possible presidential candidate.
In this view, Hidary’s run now is simply a wise investment in his future. “If there is a method to the madness,” says David Luchins, a former aide to New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a keen observer of city politics, “it could be that if you’re young enough, you can stake out some ground, and you may very well run in the Democratic Party in four years.”
Hidary’s campaign office is at 85 Delancey Street, on the second floor of The Yard, a co-working community near the Tenement Museum. As I waited for my interview with Hidary the day after the Wiesenthal Center event, I eavesdropped on his young staffers discussing social media strategy in a gray common room: What’s our plan? How will we use Facebook? How many Twitter followers do we have? Weiner has over 21,000. De Blasio has around 9,000. We have about 5,000. It wasn’t anything exotic, just the dialogue of a fledgling campaign trying to gain a foothold.
“Right now it’s about getting the word out,” Hidary told me, when we met. He’s hired Joe Trippi—who previously managed presidential runs for Howard Dean, in 2004, and John Edwards, in 2008—to run his campaign, and along with using social media, he’s attending a full calendar of community events, from the Bronx to Brooklyn.
The candidate seems unconcerned about the fact that he doesn’t know yet who, exactly, might be voting for him. As an independent candidate, Hidary can skip the September primaries and won’t appear on the ballot until November—so he is in no rush to close the deal with voters. “I think that will come closer to October,” he said. Endorsements, too. “That’s when people usually do those kinds of things,” Hidary told me confidently. Anyway, he’s sure about one thing: The electorate is not that thrilled with the rest of the field. “Look at the career politicians,” he said. “I was on stage with them last night. You saw them. Same old, same old. They’ve had their chance.”
For almost an hour, he talked to me like a businessman making a practiced pitch. Our reception is warm, he said, our message is clear. His platform is simple, if not especially original: He wants to modernize the city’s ossified education bureaucracy, and drive economic growth by increasing access to opportunities.
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