De Blasio, Lhota, in first debate, reject Bloomberg policies

New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de

New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, right, and Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota shake hands at the conclusion of their first televised debate at WABC/Channel 7 studios in Manhattan. (Oct. 15, 2013) (Credit: James Keivom)

In their first debate last night, both major-party candidates for New York City mayor promised sweeping policy changes.

Democrat Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota differed not on whether, but how, they'd retool Michael Bloomberg's City Hall.

For months, de Blasio has slammed Bloomberg's handling of police searches, charter schools, prevailing-wage levels, tax incentives and the city's response to superstorm Sandy.


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For his part, Lhota disputes de Blasio's rhetoric on schools and police -- but has his own objections to the municipal status quo.

"I, too, want a change in the city government," he said Tuesday night. "We can no longer have a City Hall that doesn't listen to the outer boroughs." Minutes later, Lhota termed Bloomberg's recent statement about how billionaires pay for city government "quite insensitive."

On affordable housing, Lhota blames major Bloomberg-era jumps in property taxes and water fees for pushing up owner costs, and in turn, rents. De Blasio says he'd seek to change zoning rules prodding developers to build more affordable housing. Tuesday night, he said: "We're going to have to get away from Bloomberg policies that focused on luxury housing."

Other issues didn't make it into the debate. Both men criticize -- and would likely rewrite -- the mayor's fledgling plan to expand taxi service in the boroughs other than Manhattan.

De Blasio says he'd halt a Housing Authority plan to lease public land for luxury development. Lhota would change the plan, too, but instead place retail businesses on such properties.

Despite contrasting pitches, both Lhota and de Blasio fault Bloomberg as failing to listen to the people. Lhota vows to bring back regular town hall meetings with constituents in all the boroughs to hear their concerns.

With Bloomberg having won the last three elections by running on the Republican line -- though he ditched his GOP registration six years ago -- you'd expect Lhota to sound like the incumbent's preferred successor. So it's no surprise that while de Blasio is committed to replacing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Lhota defends him against stop-and-frisk criticism. But Lhota also would restore a leading role for the Office of Emergency Management in disaster response, which Bloomberg and Kelly downgraded.

Both candidates have slammed the current administration's fining of small businesses and called for city employees to get long-delayed raises.

So start getting used to the post-Bloomberg era, which begins soon, whichever version the voters choose.

Transitions bring dramatic shifts to city government, even if the outgoing and incoming mayors are from the same party.

In his first 100 days, Bloomberg -- though endorsed by predecessor Rudy Giuliani -- trashed several Giuliani capital projects, scrapped his so-called decency commission, canceled two planned privatizations and one agency merger, and changed food stamp policy.

Before that, Giuliani theatrically rejected fiscal recommendations, including tax hikes, left for him by the administration of his predecessor, David Dinkins. Continually, in that first term, the first GOP mayor in a generation scoffed at "the old way of thinking."