By Sabina Mollot
Frank Scala, at the age of 78, is a veteran in more than one sense of the word. Along with having served in the Italian Navy, the Sicily native has also worked as a barber for decades at his own shop, La Scala, and he also has a history of running for office in New York City.
Being a Republican hasn’t stopped him from attempting to defeat popular Democrat incumbents. He’s challenged former Assembly Member Steven Sanders, current Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Brad Hoylman.
And now Scala, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, has set his sights on the Manhattan borough president’s office, running against Gale Brewer.
Last year, when running against Kavanagh, Scala at first said he was just doing it out of a sense of obligation to the Republican Party since no one else had stepped up. He’d begrudgingly done the same thing two years earlier to give Republicans someone from their own party to vote for, when challenging Hoylman. But Scala later changed his mind, saying he wanted to run “legit.” This time, he’s running a mostly inactive race — he isn’t fundraising and has no website.
But he was still happy to do an interview to discuss the issues he thinks are a priority for the borough and the campaign.
“I’d like to do it,” said Scala at his Fifth Avenue barber shop, not long before a film crew would be arriving there to shoot a scene of “Million Dollar Listing New York.” The TV shout-out came courtesy of one of the Bravo series’ featured agents, Ryan Serhant, who’s a faithful client of La Scala.
Its owner’s desire to run is fueled by his view that the Democratic Party doesn’t do much beyond making promises it can’t keep.
“The Democratic Party — it looks like they sit together and do whatever they want for themselves,” said Scala in a voice that’s still heavily accented after living in this country for 54 years.
“I don’t see nothing much changing for the people, the community,” he said. “I’m on the community board and I see all the complaints we have. Politicians are going to meetings and saying something, but there are still complaints. So they talk but no action.”
He also laid some of the blame on Democrat voters. “In New York City, they vote for the party. They don’t vote for the person.”
Along with serving for years as a member of Community Board 6’s Business and Street Activities Committee, Scala is also the longtime president of the Albano Republican Club as well as the 13th Precinct Community Council.
Asked what, if elected, his top priority would be, he answered “everything,” though in particular he is concerned about the homeless and how the issue impacts quality of life in the city. Gesturing towards the window of his mezzanine level shop that faces Fifth Avenue, he said a homeless man had taken up residence across the street at a vacant lot. On the avenue, he said, the presence of homeless people has increased, including some that panhandle aggressively “and nobody does anything about it,” said Scala. “People are scared. Are they a poor person or a criminal? They don’t know. They (the homeless) stop tourists and they get scared.”
Another concern of Scala’s is empty storefronts, due to rising rents.
“A lot of stores are empty because the rent is sky high,” he said.
He suspects part of the problem is that landlords are hoping for tax breaks based on a loss of income while warehousing their storefronts. If elected, he said he would push to make sure landlords would not get rewarded for intentionally keeping their properties vacant and he would also try to work with landlords to encourage them to rent to small businesses.
After being told about how the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act is aimed at getting commercial tenants an automatic lease renewal for 10 years, Scala said that sounded good to him.
“I’m in the same situation,” he said, noting his own business only gets two-year leases at a time despite his having been there for over 45 years.
“More business people are moving away from New York,” said Scala, who also said he’s noticed a decline in business in recent years as a result. Most of his clients are people who work nearby. Another obstacle for him is that in recent years, he’s noticed clients going for longer periods between haircuts. To compensate, he’s started working longer hours.
Scala’s also a supporter of affordable housing, admitting he wouldn’t be able to live in Stuy Town if he hadn’t snagged a stabilized apartment shortly before the place began converting to market rate. However, he said there needs to be more oversight to make sure those who get under-market apartments actually need them.
Other issues he raised were wanting to keep the city’s streets cleaner and he’d like for cops to get a raise.
Scala’s campaign has gotten the backing of the Manhattan Republican Party, and along with Brewer, a Democrat who’s also running on the Working Families line, his other competitors on the ballot will be Daniel Vila Rivera of the Green Party and Brian Wadell of the Reform and Libertarian Parties.