NEW YORK – Billed as an “old fashion, ‘Frank Sinatra’ dance band party,” John and Margo Catsimatidis hosted Curtis Sliwa’s 60th birthday celebration at the Edison Hotel that was also a fundraiser for the Guardian Angels, the international community service organization that he founded to fight subway crime by training members to make citizens’ arrests 35 years ago.
The dinner party featured a wonderful dance band and performances by comedian Stewie Stone and Frank Sinatra impersonator Steve Maglia, but the ebullient Sliwa who has the gift of gap to go along with his organizing skills did his best to keep the spotlight on the Guardian Angels and his loved ones – literally in the case of his partner, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem.
Sliwa acknowledged his mother, Francesca Sliwa, and his late father Chester, for shaping his character and believing in him and his endeavors.
Katz praised the contributions made to society by Guardian Angels chapters in 15 countries and 144 cities. She said that when she was a teenager, her father would tell her to look for their trademark red berets when she was on the subway. “They will protect you,” he would say.
One of the highlights was a martial arts presentation by the Junior Guardian Angels of Washington Heights, who range from 6 to 15 years of age. The Guardian Angels also provides education programs and workshops for schools and businesses.
The most touching part of the evening was the introduction of Michelle Knight, one of the three women held captive in Cleveland by Ariel Castro. The Guardian Angels of Cleveland were very active in the 10 year search, working closely with local police.
There were reminders throughout the evening that it took a while for police and public officials to embrace the organization of “unarmed citizen crime patrollers.” Sliwa said his mother expertly handled public relations, handling the phone calls and explaining the group’s mission and motivation.
Citizens and business owners immediately appreciated them. John Catsimatidis was one of the first.
“When I opened my first stores in the early 70’s, walking to the bank at midnight with my deposits was always a harrowing experience. Police had a crime epidemic on their hands and asking for an escort was out of the question, but the Guardian Angels were there,” Catsimatides wrote in the invitation to the event.
The founder of the Red Apple Group conglomerate, he said “Curtis Sliwa and his Guardian Angels gave the City a boost in security just when we needed it. The Guardian Angels kept a watchful eye on my stores and the neighborhood. I’ll always be grateful.”
That’s why he and his wife were happy to throw another great party for a good cause.