New York City, NY – An advocate for New York City taxi drivers and bodega owners is eyeing a run for the Republican nomination for mayor, The Post has learned.
Fernando Mateo, who was born in the Dominican Republic and has long headed the state Federation of Taxi Drivers and more recently the Bodegas Association of America, has deep ties to the city’s Latino and immigrant communities.
“I’ve been asked to consider running for mayor. It’s something I’m considering given the condition the city is in,” he said during a Sunday interview.
Mateo said he believes the Big Apple is heading in the wrong direction and complained that too many of the current candidates running for mayor are lifelong politicians who don’t understand the day-to-day struggles of working New Yorkers — particularly those who are small business merchants and their employees.
“We need someone who has out-of-the-box experiences. We don’t want another mayor for four or eight years who acts like Bill de Blasio,” said Mateo.
“The Democratic Party has lost touch with what New York City is.”
Mateo, 62, who described himself as an “urban Republican,” griped that some violent crimes have risen during the coronavirus pandemic, and accused New York’s Democratic Party establishment of leaning too far left, aiding criminals instead of law-abiding citizens and victims.
“Crime is a huge issue. There is no public safety. They’ve legalized crime in our city,” Mateo said.
“You can’t welcome people to this city if it’s not safe. We have police being spat at.”
A Mayor Mateo said he would push to increase the number of cops in the police department, not gut or “defund” the NYPD.
In his advocacy roles, Mateo has fought to get more protection for drivers and merchants who’ve been preyed on by criminals.
He currently helps run his wife’s restaurant on the Grand Concourse in The Bronx.
Mateo blasted New York leaders for suspending indoor dining when government stats show the coronavirus infection rate in the city’s eateries is only 1.4 percent.
“Indoor dining should have never closed. Give me a break!” he said.
Mateo also said he would work to keep wealthy taxpayers in the city, not run them out with tax hikes.
Bronx Republican Party chairman Michael Rendino said he moved to recruit Mateo to run after outgoing Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., a Democrat, decided not to run for City Hall.
“The Bronx feels left out by the Democratic Party,” Rendino said.
Mateo confirmed that he’s spoken with several Republican county leaders in the city about throwing his hat in the ring in the race for City Hall.
Other Republicans looking at running are billionaire mogul John Catsimatidis and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa.
Mateo acknowledged that he would likely decide not to run for mayor if Catsimatidis, who ran in 2013, throws his hat in the ring. Catsimatidis is now considered within GOP circles as the most powerful force in the party. He can self-finance a campaign with his own fortune and his daughter, Andrea, is the head of the Manhattan Republican Party.
“Catsimatidis is a legend,” said Mateo.
Mateo is not without baggage. His name surfaced in de Blasio’s pay-to-play fundraising scandal, hitting up pals to raise funds for the mayor’s shuttered not-for-profit group. Mateo was not charged with any crime.
He insisted he didn’t do anything wrong and claimed he was a victim.
“The mayor called up and said he was desperate for money. I helped him. I’m a victim of this administration,” Mateo insisted.
The big field of Democratic candidates running include city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former de Blasio administration officials Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia and Loree Sutton; former federal and city housing director Shaun Donovan, former not-for-profit social service director Diane Morales, and Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca, among others.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Staten Island Rep. Max Rose, who lost his re-election bid to Republican Congresswoman-elect Nicole Malliotakis, have also expressed interest.