By Sabina Mollot
In June, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney will face off against fellow Democrat Suraj Patel, but already another opponent has joined the race, this one a Republican who’s gotten the backing of Manhattan GOP.
That candidate, who’s just getting started petitioning and organizing his campaign, is Eliot Rabin, also known to some as Peter Elliot, which is his retail business on the Upper East Side.
Rabin, who’s run upscale clothing boutiques in the neighborhood since the 1970s and worked in the fashion industry in other capacities even longer, was motivated to run for office after the latest high school shooting massacre.
“After Florida, I exploded,” he said, while sitting for an interview at his women’s boutique on Madison Avenue and 81st Street. “There’s a lack of moral courage in our government.”
Rabin, who’s originally from South Carolina, actually collects guns, but said, “You couldn’t pay me to join the NRA, even though I love guns. The Second Amendment is misread. When they had to reload a gun back then, if you were really fast it was 15-20 seconds. If you were slow you were dead. It’s a different world now. An AR weapon has no business in civilian hands or under 21. They really should be outlawed except in military or police work.”
An army veteran enlisted in 1966, Rabin also wants to bring back the draft, although one option could be to serve in the Domestic Peace Corps as opposed to a military branch.
“Why?” he asked. “English is taught. Loyalty. Patriotism. Job training. Bring it back, no exceptions for doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs or Podunk university professors.” Citizens, he believes, should serve two years, immigrants four, in exchange for automatic citizenship.
He knows this idea could be a turnoff to potential campaign donors, but he insisted, “I’ll be straight up with my views.”
Additionally, as a veteran of the New York City retail landscape, he has some thoughts on how local mom-and-pop shops could have a fighting chance at not getting snuffed out by banks. The solution, he said, is to work out partnerships with their landlords, where along with a reasonable rent increase, retailers would also turn over a percentage of their revenue to the landlords.
“What does the landlord need to make a profit? Beyond your profit, you partner with me and I’ll give you a piece of my action,” he said. “There has to be a way to alleviate these empty stores.”
He also feels the Commercial Rent Tax, applied to retailers from Chambers Street to 96th Street, to be discriminatory against Manhattan businesses. While the law was recently amended by former Council Member Dan Garodnick to exempt more businesses, Rabin said he’d like to repeal it completely. He’d also like to look into landlords’ reasons for warehousing spaces.
“It doesn’t make sense to keep a store open (vacant) for three years; something’s got to be working in your favor.”
The candidate also said education is another major priority for him. He took his son out of a private school when he learned they weren’t teaching students how to write in cursive.
“Why would anyone stop teaching cursive writing?” he said. “The reason they gave is they need to learn the keyboard. It seems to me they know the whole thing when they come out of the womb today. If you can’t write cursive, you can’t sign your name. It’s a form of discipline. It’s your hand and eye working in conjunction. First the brain, then the machine. Not the reverse.”
Another school issue for him is how they’re reminiscent of jails. “We are the only country where our kids have metal detectors and bars on the windows. It’s a cultural issue. It’s an issue where you have four cell phones at the table and no talking.”
Perhaps it’s instinctive Rabin is big on discipline. He’s a graduate of Citadel, the Military College in South Carolina. He went to law school, but never finished. “Instead I went to the south of France and enjoyed my life,” he admitted. That is, he did until serving in the army, being stationed in Germany, until 1970.
Upon returning to civilian life, he worked in the fashion industry in New York, including designing for major fashion houses, but found if he was going to work as hard as he was, he wanted to be doing it for himself at his own store. Since being founded 41 years ago, the retail business, Peter Elliot, grew, at one point with five stores in operation, though now it is down to two. One sells women’s clothing, the other menswear on 72nd Street and Lexington Avenue. In recent years, according to reports, the business has had some legal troubles with the landlord. Then last year, there was a bankruptcy filing for the women’s store, according to The Commercial Observer. On these reports, Rabin declined to comment, but admitted the biggest mistake of his career was not buying the building housing his first store when the landlord offered him the opportunity in the 1980s. Rabin had wanted to but found out not long after the offer had been made that he’d responded too late; the building had already been scooped by a new owner who promptly doubled his rent.
However, his fashion empire has survived, if not intact, though competition from the online world has knocked out some of Peter Elliot’s neighbors. One nearby bookshop, he recalled, closed after too many customers would browse there and buy on Amazon later. Additionally, while raising of the minimum wage has been cited as too heavy a burden for some businesses, it apparently isn’t for Peter Elliot.
“Never have I ever paid minimum wage,” said Rabin. “We start at $15 an hour, because people need to eat.”
The shop is just a couple of blocks away from the townhouse that’s home to the Metropolitan Republican Club, where he’d been at event for candidates prior to the interview. While there, he couldn’t help noticing he was the oldest one, with the others being mostly millennials.
“It’s a new Republican Party,” said Rabin.
Local Republicans he’s admired are former New York Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, Giuliani for cleaning up the city and Bloomberg, he explained, “for giving the city class.” Party presidents he admires are Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. He does have some concerns about the current administration, explaining, “He’s a good guy, but he’s abrasive,” and, added Rabin, “I have a big problem with people humoring Mr. Putin when he’s an out and out murderer.”
That said, Rabin also insisted his party affiliation wasn’t important, a view he plans to share with voters in the solidly Democratic 12th Congressional district, much of which is on the East Side of Manhattan.
“I’m not running as a Democrat or a Republican. I’m running as me,” said Rabin. “In the state of New York, you have to be affiliated with a major party.” It irks him that only Republicans will be able to sign his petition, which he said discourages qualifies people from bothering to run. However, he also intends to run on his own Common Sense Party. (Expect to find this as a hashtag eventually.)
Rabin also said he’s running for his 16-year-old son, Joshua. “I’m doing this a lot for him. I think the future of our country depends on common sense and we’re just not using it.”
On district issues, Rabin said he’d like to tackle traffic congestion. He’s pro-bike lane, but doesn’t feel the way they were laid out did anything to help alleviate vehicle traffic.
“I think it’s an issue of pollution and an issue of safety. I’ve seen people get hit by cars,” he said, while gesturing outside his store. “I’ve gone out in the street and directed traffic.”
Though a political newcomer, he has served student council president in college as well as council president of Hillel, a campus Jewish organization. He initially filed to run as a City Council, District 5, candidate last year but ultimately didn’t end up on the ballot.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Rabin was drafted into the military. He was enlisted.