Bo Dietl—the celebrity ex-homicide cop, private investigator and perhaps Martin Scorsese’s favorite character actor—speaks in the thumping, harried, gasping cadence of his home turf, the immigrant enclave of Ozone Park, Queens.
Greeting a visitor to his 50th-floor corner office with a verbal fusillade, he sounds as if he’s declaiming, at warp speed, a fractured and profanity-laced epic poem.
“My mother was from Sicily. My father was from Germany. I’m first generation. My father used to beat the living shit out of me with a fucking belt buckle. Very strict. I learned about work ethics when I was 8 years old. I delivered the Long Island Press. I used to deliver 76 newspapers at 5:30 in the fucking morning before I went to school. I swept the factory out after I got out of school, worked on the weekends as a busboy, bar boy, short order cook, griddle man. I did everything. All I wanted to do was go to college and become a gym teacher.”
Dietl never made it to college, but his ambitions have gotten quite an upgrade since then. At 66 years old, having deployed his streetwise charm to befriend movie stars, magnates and media figures, while making and losing millions of dollars in his private security business—much of the losses, Dietl admits sheepishly, sustained at Baccarat tables in Las Vegas and Atlantic City—he now wants to be mayor of New York.
What’s more, Dietl, a Glock-packing fireplug of a man at 5-foot-8, wants to annihilate the 6-foot-5 incumbent, a man he derides as “Big Bird.”
“I don’t like the guy. I don’t like the guy ‘cause he’s a phony,” Dietl says about first-term Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will face the voters for reelection this fall.
“He’s a person that’s really looking beyond New York City. He’s looking for his progressive agenda to go someplace else. Maybe he’s gonna have tea with my friend Bernie Sanders or that psychopath congresswoman from California”—at which Dietl does his whiny and no-doubt offensive impression of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “He”—Mayor de Blasio—“couldn’t give a shit if we went into the toilet bowl.”
Dietl—whose last foray in elected politics, 31 years ago as a Republican candidate for Congress from Queens, ended in tears—is hardly positioned to knock off a battle-tested, well-financed professional politician supported, however dutifully, by the various public employee unions and interest groups that comprise the city’s powerful Democratic Party establishment.
Despite switching his party registration from Republican in anticipation of his mayoral campaign, Dietl can’t threaten de Blasio in the September Democratic primary because he mistakenly checked off two different party identifications—Democrat and Independent—thus nullifying his plan to run against the mayor as a Democrat after failing to convince a Manhattan Supreme Court judge to let him despite his error.
But, under the right circumstances—if he can leverage his celebrity and colorful persona into free media attention, much as Donald Trump notoriously accomplished, proving that you really can insult your way to the presidency—Dietl might do some damage.
“Bo has to figure out what his message is going to be, but he has an opportunity to generate great positive coverage in a media market where it costs a million dollars a week to buy advertising,” says Republican consultant E. O’Brien Murray. “He’s got a great network of supporters, and people here have known Bo forever. They warm to him, they enjoy his company, and he calls it the way he sees it. And he wants to be mayor of New York. He’s not thinking about it as a stepping stone. He cares about New York.”
Dietl is less well-known for his policy prescriptions—giving jobs to New York’s homeless, removing traffic-snarling bike lanes from city streets, and using cops to help abused children, among other recommendations on his campaign web site—than for his numerous acting gigs in television and movies.
Scorsese, for one, cast him for small roles in his 1990 classic Goodfellas, the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street, and, more recently in the 2016 HBO series Vinyl—in which he played the meaty role of felonious record industry fixer Joe Corso.
“Did you like the way I killed fucking Andrew Dice Clay in the pilot?” Dietl asks with a laugh. “When I bashed his head in? Cool, huh?”
Republican consultant Murray says that if Dietl can raise a few million dollars in the next several months—admittedly a tough assignment, with $4,950 the maximum individual donation—he might inspire very rich citizens to form a super-Pac to support his candidacy, which would permit unlimited spending and no restrictions on the size of contributions.
“It’s all doable,” Murray says.
Philanthropist and Home Depot billionaire Kenneth Langone says he’ll support Dietl if he’s able to demonstrate that his candidacy is serious.
“I’d love to see it,” Langone says. “If Bo gets strong sponsorship from influential people, I’ve told him I’ll do all I can to help him. But nobody is going to throw money out the window.”
Langone adds: “If he gets the right endorsements from very influential people, those endorsements in turn will lead to segments and groups that will be supportive of him—that’s how you normally build up a political base,” Langone says. “Look, money follows endorsements and likely victory, ok? It’s that simple.”
Langone is among the legions of plutocrats and celebrities—including Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro—that Dietl has hosted over the years at Rao’s, the famed Italian restaurant in East Harlem, a reputed mob hangout (hence its irresistible aura) where it is impossible for the general public to get a reservation, but where Dietl has basically owned a reserved table on Thursday nights since 1977, when he started frequenting the place as a street cop.
In a stroke of luck, Dietl was already a treasured regular in August 1977 when then-New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, now a Daily Beast contributor, raved about the tiny restaurant and assured its status as the city’s—and perhaps the nation’s—most coveted boîte.
Dietl has dibs on Rao’s largest table, Table No. 1, which seats 10, and has used it to work his way into the company of the high and mighty—which in turn has enhanced his social and business connections.
Although Langone, who has sat at Dietl’s table, protests: “That’s petty, for Chrissakes. What’s that got to do with running for mayor? Getting a table at a restaurant is not a very strong basis for friendship. Leveraging it into friendship? Give me his table and I’ll like him? Come on.” (Dietl has actually co-authored a book, Business Lunchatations, describing his use of Rao’s as a networking platform.)
“Look, we live in an age where if someone is quote-unquote authentic, he can be elected president,” says Democratic strategist Jimmy Siegel, a wizened veteran of New York politics. “Bo Dietl is an absolutely authentic character who says what’s on his mind, and says it in a very New York way. So who knows?”
On the other hand, Siegel cautions, to the extent that Dietl reminds New Yorkers of Trump (with whom Dietl, an original member of the Mar-a-Lago, has been friendly for decades), that could sink his chances.
“A Trumpian candidate is the last thing voters here would support,” Siegel says. “Right there, you’re talking about as poisonous a connection as it gets for New York.” Trump lost New York City to Hillary Clinton last November by 81 percent to 19 percent.
Dietl is keenly aware of his Trump problem, and has gone to great lengths to separate himself from a Republican president whose 2018 budget proposal stiffs the New York Police Department—whose resources are already stressed from protecting the president’s 10-year-old son and absentee first lady at Trump Tower—of $190 million in expected federal dollars.
In a recent interview with New York Daily News columnist Linda Stasi, Dietl even blasted his erstwhile pal as “a lying, narcissistic scumbag.”
But Dietl immediately regretted the insult—or at least the “scumbag” part of it—and says he enlisted his Fox News friend, Sean Hannity, to phone Trump personally and apologize on his behalf; no word on whether the apology was accepted. (Dietl himself says he hasn’t spoken to the president since the inauguration, when they had a brief discussion about his mayoral campaign.)
“I can live with ‘lying narcissist’ because I’ve caught him in a lie many times,” says Dietl, suddenly an aficionado of linguistic nuance.
Still, it will be difficult for Dietl to escape the consequences of his many links to Trump, whose candidacy he enthusiastically supported (not only with words, but with $25,000 to the Trump Victory PAC, plus another $5,400 to the Trump campaign proper and $19,600 to the Republican National Committee, according to federal records).
Dietl would rather talk about de Blasio.
“I live on 90th and York on the 29th floor, and I see what a big, high fucking wall that he put around Gracie Mansion,” he says, referring to de Blasio’s installation two years ago of a so-called “privacy fence” to prevent passersby from peering into the mayor’s Upper East Side official residence. “I don’t know why he needs a wall around it. Maybe a little toot? Not the worst thing in the world.
“But the problem is his work ethics. He leaves there about 9, 9:30, and goes to Brooklyn to walk on a treadmill. We got Asphalt Green over there”—a reference to a nearby health club. “He could go to the gym there. Why doesn’t he get his ass up a little early?”
Dietl goes on: “This guy is a lazy person…He’s stupid, in the sense that he’s very articulate and he can read a Teleprompter, he says all the right words, except you don’t feel like his heart is in it…I’d love to debate him…I’d fight him any fucking time. Lock me in a cage. I’ll eat his fucking balls for fucking breakfast.”
The de Blasio campaign, understandably, is in no hurry to respond to, or even acknowledge the existence of, someone they consider a marginal player at best. They’d much rather deal with Republican hopeful Paul Massey, a standard-issue millionaire real estate executive who recently moved to the city from the Westchester County suburbs to run for mayor, and has already distinguished himself by spending his campaign into an early deficit, hiring staff and high-priced political consultants with little to show for it.
Gristedes supermarket billionaire John Catsimatidis, who spent $12 million last time around to run unsuccessfully, is also considering entering the race.
Dietl recently met with Catsimatidis, a prominent member of the Friars Club, over how his security firm, Beau Dietl & Associates, might help the show business group survive an ongoing federal embezzlement investigation. (Dietl deemed “Beau” more professional-sounding than “Bo.”)
During their meeting in Catsimatidis’s office, Dietl says, he told the billionaire he couldn’t win this time either, but if Dietl pulls it off, he would like to appoint Catsimatidis as a deputy mayor—and then, to demonstrate his get-up-and-go, Dietl dropped down on the floor and did 66 pushups.
“He gave me a hug, and I gave him a hug,” Catsimatidis says. “I wished him luck and told him that if I’m not running I’ll consider who I would support. Bo is a very colorful New Yorker.”
Meanwhile, De Blasio campaign spokesman Dan Levitan refused to engage Dietl’s insults, instead emailing The Daily Beast: “Mayor de Blasio expanded Pre-K for every 4 year-old and raised wages for tens of thousands of workers. Crime is at record lows, jobs are at a record high, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. That is the Mayor’s record, and one that New Yorkers are rallying around.”
Indeed, de Blasio’s operatives have yet to even start an opposition research file on Dietl, whose checkered past and culturally insensitive comments during countless appearances over the years on the Fox News Channel and Don Imus’s radio show—many of them racially charged—would doubtless produce an embarrassment of riches for a series of negative ads.
Media Matters for America , the left-leaning press watchdog founded by political empire-builder David Brock, has assembled an extensive record of Dietl’s off-color remarks concerning Asians, African-Americans, Arabs, Muslims, immigrants and women, along with his rabid endorsements of Barack Obama birtherism and racial profiling by law enforcement authorities.
“If I see two guys that look like Aba Daba Doo and Aba Daba Dah, I’m gonna pull ‘em over, and I wanna find out what you’re doing,” Dietl once told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, while he also remarked to Imus: “It looks like the pilgrimage in to Mecca, the amount of ‘Aba Dabba Doos’ that are coming in from Canada into the United States.”
Dietl’s anti-Obama birther rant in October 2009 was so over-the-top that it prompted the otherwise boorish Imus to scold: “You’ve lost your mind…You were born on Mars.”
Then there was Dietl’s shouted November 2009 claim on Imus that Katie Couric—or, as he indecorously put it, “the cougar there from Channel 2”—had undergone so much cosmetic surgery that “she’s got her eyes pulled so fast, she’s starting to look Chinese herself…You like her eyes, the way they look? They look smaller and smaller. Ten years ago, she looked American. Today she looks Oriental!”
These days, Dietl doesn’t bother to defend such remarks, and insists that he has “evolved.”
“You know what? I’m sorry,” he said about Couric. “And I apologized to Katie. I called her and apologized. That’s the difference between ‘Narcissist A,’ Donald, and non-narcissist Bo. I can say I’m sorry and I was wrong. If somebody is upset over something I said 30 years ago on Imus, I apologize.”
Also potentially problematic is Dietl’s relationship with Fox News, where he was a longtime paid contributor until his contract wasn’t renewed last summer, and with disgraced Fox News founder Roger Ailes.
Dietl has repeatedly denied a report by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman that Ailes had employed Dietl to run a secretive “black ops” campaign to intimidate Ailes’s enemies and collect dirt on and follow adversarial journalists—including Sherman.
In 2007, Ailes had provided Dietl with an effusive letter of recommendation: “He does excellent work and personally is a man I trust. My experience with him is that he works tireless on behalf of his clients and by nature is a loyal man.”
Even before sitting down for an interview behind his mountainous desk—piled high with campaign and business papers, a clutter of books and grip-and-grin snapshots with celebs—Dietl paced his office (limping from a long-ago ankle injury sustained in a skydiving mishap) and, unprompted, launched into a rant about Sherman’s allegation, calling the reporter “a dickhead.”
“I told him, ‘Listen to me. If I was following you and your fucking wife, I would tell you to go fuck yourself. That’s my business. That black-ops 17th floor bullshit—whoever’s telling you that is a fucking liar because it’s non-existent…If you print it, you prick, I’ll go after you for slander and liable.’”
Sherman did print it, but a lawsuit was not forthcoming. (Sherman did not respond to a request for comment.)
Dietl concedes that he has done investigative work for Fox News, notably in then-producer Andrea Mackris’s 2004 sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, but says he hasn’t spoken to Ailes in several months. Dietl also denies that he will be drawn into the ongoing federal criminal investigation—in which Fox News’s former chief financial officer has been granted immunity, according to the Financial Times—of the channel’s alleged practice of paying off sexual harassment victims in return for their silence.
“I feel bad for Roger,” Dietl says.
Meanwhile, he is focused on his quixotic campaign—in which he would have the city’s voters believe that his world ends at the Hudson River.
Surveying his spectacular east-facing view from the 50th floor of One Penn Plaza, Dietl crows: “Look at it—I got Queens, the Chrysler Building over there, Kennedy Aiport, the flight patterns right over here, the planes landing at LaGuardia, and”—pointing off in the distance in New York Harbor—“look at the little lady over there. What’s her name? That hooker? And there are my boys in Staten Island. On the other side of my office, I have the Bronx. So I have a view of every borough!”