Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis projected a cheerful, upbeat attitude at Sunday's Greek Independence Parade despite last week's twin corruption scandals that led to the arrest of 11 people, including two city GOP officials, one of whom worked for Catsimatidis' campaign.
"I feel very sad for the people I know that did some stupid things," he said in an interview. But, he added: "It has no impact."
Among those implicated last week was Queens County Republican Party vice chairman Vincent Tabone, who worked both for Catsimatidis' private company and his campaign.
Authorities allege Tabone was bribed to help a Democratic mayoral hopeful, Malcolm Smith, get a spot on the Republican primary ballot.
After the arrests, Catsimatidis fired Tabone, and released a statement saying he had cooperated with the investigation.
"We were betrayed by Vince Tabone," said Rob Ryan, a senior Catsimatidis adviser. Ryan maintained the arrests had not distracted from the campaign's parade celebrations, which he said were focused on Greek heritage.
The billionaire rode the parade route atop his own float. It was festooned with slogans and red, white and blue trim.
Catsimatidis, who was born on the Greek island of Nisyros and moved to America with his family six months later, has 50 years of history with the parade: He said he first marched with his parochial school at age 12.
At the time, Catsimatidis said, he idolized Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping mogul, and dreamed of "making it" in the same way. Now, after building his own empire on grocery stores and oil, Catsimatidis describes the "few thousand dollars" he spent on his parade float as "trivial."
In the wake of the scandal, though, his largesse has made him a target for his mayoral opponents. They have criticized Catsimatidis' payments to county Republican Party accounts, which have topped $20,000.
Sunday, Catsimatidis' GOP rival, Joseph Lhota, released an ethics-reform plan and a statement calling for an end to a "tsunami of sleaze." The plan would limit donations to state and county political parties to $4,950, the maximum individual mayoral candidates can now accept.
Catsimatidis responded that his contributions had not broken any rules.
"It's nice to be critical, but we're following the law," he said. "And if Congress or the legislature wants to change the law, that's fine."
With Dan Janison