New York It's a Friday morning and John Catsimatidis is simultaneously sleepy, scrappy and animated. He tells us to make ourselves some coffee before sitting down and placing his three phones on the table in the conference room of his Red Apple Group, Inc. headquarters.
It's not clear why Catsimatidis, a Greek-American billionaire and, keeps three phones, if not out of the goodness of his heart to keep BlackBerry and "old-fashioned phones" in business. He is quick to swat at our joke that one is for the money, the other for the honey -- he says the media tried in vain to dig up all they could from girlfriends and women of the past.
If you are hard pressed to believe that the self-proclaimed "man of the people" is, in fact, "pro-people," Catsimatidis' office on the desolate corner of West 56th and 11th Avenue is convincing evidence. Framed photos of Catsimatidis cover every inch of real estate on his walls; some photos with politicians, former leaders of the free world, and celebrities -- fueling the belief that his bid this year for the Republican nomination in the New York mayor's race was nothing but a personal vanity project-- others featuring his priest, neighbors, and friends. And by Catsimatidis' account, not many in New York are not his friends.
Catsimatidis is excited to sit down again with a reporter; heto Joe Lhota, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and is missing the campaign grind.
Catsimatidis, who affectionately signs off on emails with his now celebrated nickname "Cats," wastes no time in implying backhandedly to CBS News that Lhota is not a viable mayoral candidate: "I was running against Joe Lhota, but unfortunately, I wasn't really running against Joe Lhota. Rudy Giuliani was on his side, I was running against Giuliani."
"I agree with him on being pro-business. But I disagree with him on the way he wants to run things, I am tough, I am a leader, but, I have a heart," Catsimatidis recites while pulling himself forward by the lapels of his blazer, underscoring the word, "heart."
"And he was known just to be tough. And so we disagree on a few things."
Catsimatidis has warmer words for his former Democratic rival, Bill De Blasio, who leads Lhota by 40 points according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week.
"I think De Blasio is an honest guy, I've known him for 15 to 20 years and I think he's going to move further center."
His surprisingly warmer response to De Blasio, a Boston Red Sox fan in the heart of New York Yankees country, can perhaps be attributed to important mutual friends: De Blasio was once a campaign manager for Hillary Clinton and the Clintons are family friends of Catsimatidis.
For someone who repeatedly insists that he is not a professional politician, and does not like professional politicians, Catsimatidis, who spent more than $10 million on his mayoral bid, gives great sound bites and has a prolific history of political fundraising and donating for both parties. He raised hundreds of thousand of dollars for the Clintons over the years and hosted a fundraising luncheon for Romney in 2012 that brought in up to $2,500 per person.
When asked about whether he'll help Hillary Clinton in 2016, should she decide to run, or someone else, Catsimatidis insisted he doesn't know.
"I have not decided anything. The Clintons are family friends. I thought Bill Clinton was one of our best presidents. But I also loved Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior. They were great presidents. We'll see what happens."
What about Chris Christie, the Republican governor from neighboring New Jersey? Again, he demurred, saying, "Look, he's got a lot of capabilities.
"I'll listen to everybody and I want what's best for our country."
Catsimatidis, Christie's Greek doppelganger, did offer some insight about being held to a different standard as an overweight candidate.
"Well you know, like I said, I felt that the guys at the New York Times - I didn't meet up to their standards. Like, they, them as journalists have accomplished anything on their own. You know they are good writers but why are they judging me?
"I lost 30 pounds which was good and Christiebut I don't think weight should have a big standard," he said, adding, "As long as you are not grossly overweight."
As for his future political plans, Catsimatidis played coy and wouldn't rule out another mayoral run in 2017.
"I'm going to stay active. I'm going to try to make a difference. I think honesty and integrity is very important in politics."