Friday, November 23, 2007

The Strange Bedfellows of Curtis Sliwa.

On my way home from work the other day, I was once again frustrated by the local radio options. I know I should probably break down and buy Sirius satellite radio, but I hate the idea of having to pay for this diversion. Anyway, my usual selection Terry Gross was interviewing some singer-songwriter that I had absolutely no interest in. After considering the limited alternatives, I decided to bite the bullet and put on FM 104.7. This is the Pittsburgh home of blowhards like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and hometown-cretin Jim Quinn. I had actually forgotten that Sean Hannity was the ghoul who usually fills the slot when I am commuting home from work. Let me point out that I despise Hannity. He is a chubby cracker with the perspicacity of a developmentally-stunted boy scout. He's basically the leading candidate for poster boy of the ignorant and reactionary right-wing.

It was just my luck that Hannity had already begun his holiday break, and I tuned in just as his replacement was introducing the show. I listened closely to the thick Brooklyn accent of his substitute, and tried to guess who it was. I was a bit surprised when I learned it was none other than the infamous Curtis Sliwa. For those who are unaware of Sliwa's pedigree, he is the founder of the Guardian Angels- an organization created to help address the widespread violence on the New York City subways. Sliwa was quite a celebrity in the Northeastern US in the late 1970's and early 80's. At that time, America's foremost city was a hotbed of violent crime. As the Angels grew in size, the red beret and jacket that the group customarily donned became a symbol for frustrated citizens who were eager to take back their besieged city. For awhile they were lionized as heroes. Sliwa expanded his concept to other cities across the nation, and even started chapters abroad. But before long they ran into some bad press.

Apparently Sliwa offended police departments throughout the territories the Guardian Angels patrolled. His vocal criticism of their operations was far from endearing to beleaguered officers. To further undermine his credibility, Sliwa made up some criminal incidents to bolster his own public profile. In 1980 he even claimed to have been kidnapped in the Bronx, and taken to Jones Beach in Long Island. Eventually he was outed in the press, and admitted to having lied. Still he continued to expand his organization's operations. His controversial reputation did not keep him from attaining a radio spot in NYC. He quickly developed a reputation for his rapid-fire delivery and vaguely populist conservative views. In the early 90's he experienced some severe blowback for his verbal attacks on the Gotti family. He was kidnapped and shot by thugs hired by the infamous junior kingpin. Although he would survive his obvious injuries and garner a certain amount of sympathy, his conflicting accounts of the abduction raised some eyebrows. His earlier falsehoods came back to bite him on the ass, and his integrity was successfully impugned in court.

As of late he has been filling in for Hannity. But it wasn't his appearance the other day that returned Sliwa's name to my consciousness. This past October, KDKA radio host Kevin Miller invited the Guardian Angels figurehead to Pittsburgh to confront what Miller characterized as the out-of-control crime rates in the inner city. Reportedly they are old friends from Miller's time in Nashville. Although the portly Miller tried to create a media circus with a dog-and-pony show in the city's troubled Hill District, local law enforcement authorities made it clear that Sliwa's assistance was both unsolicited and unnecessary. No doubt Sliwa's record of bad-mouthing the 'boys in blue' had some impact on their decision. They characterized him and his group as vigilantes and sent them on their way. Presumably they were none too impressed by Cranberry resident Kevin Miller's feeble attempts at addressing urban problems.

Despite the local flap involving Miller and the 'Angels', I was curious to see what type of on air schtick he was selling. I only heard about 40 minutes of his program, but in that time I quickly gathered that he's a political lightweight. He attempted some flaccid criticism of the Democratic candidates for president. He implored one caller not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but failed to indicate why he's against her. His thoughts on John Edwards were limited to a routine about the man's expensive haircut. And every time he mentioned Barack Obama, he felt the inexplicable urge to tack on the inane addendum, "rhymes with 'osama' ". The only comment he had for the other side of the aisle was that Mitt Romney is too much of a choir boy for his liking. I wasn't sure where he was coming from with that assessment until I read that Sliwa is buddies with Rudy Giuliani. It makes sense that he would prep his audience for his endorsement of the Republican 'bad boy'. As a longtime observer of NYC, Sliwa knows the graveyard of skeletons stuffed inside Giuliani's closet. At the same time this connection may provide the clue to solving another political enigma. Forgive me for suggesting that Sliwa's 'Angels' may have been the divine inspiration behind Pat Robertson's support for the 'Big G.' Stranger visitations have happened. Suffice it to say that these guys comprise one ungodly trinity.

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Blogger Eric said...

What do you think will come of this?

4:30 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I'm not sure about what "this" you mean. I think Giuliani will win the primary, but I don't think he has a chance in the general election.

As far as Sliwa... I really don't see him with a regular national radio slot. And I don't see the Angels coming to Pittsburgh. This city has its own way of doing things without outsider involvement.

6:34 PM  

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