Long before Joe Lhota became Mayor Rudy Giuliani's top deputy -- in fact before the two men had any connection at all -- Lhota's wife, Tamra, signed up for Giuliani's 1989 campaign for mayor.
Back then the Lhotas, who'd met while both were employed at the Paine Webber investment firm, were newly married and settling into Brooklyn Heights, where they still reside. After a couple of weeks as a Giuliani volunteer, she said, she was asked to join the fundraising staff full time. Giuliani barely lost that year, but when he won in 1993, it was Tamra Lhota who had headed the campaign's fundraising operation.
Over the years, the Republican Lhotas showed as tight a domestic political partnership as their Democratic counterparts, Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane. Apparently in tandem with his wife's involvement, Joe Lhota was embraced in Giuliani circles as a public-finance wonk in his own right and rose to budget director during the first term and deputy mayor for operations in the second, which ended in 2001.
Nowadays Tamra Roberts Lhota, 52, works at her spouse's midtown Manhattan campaign office. She still focuses on fundraising, but also does outreach to community groups, sits in on strategy sessions, and attends events.
"Almost everything we've done together in our life has been in a way that is working alongside each other and in a way that is complementary," she says.
She also brought her own experience: At age 7, helping her mother hang door signs in a state Assembly race in her native northern California; one college summer, coordinating a local supervisor's campaign; and as an adult in Washington, D.C., volunteering for President Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election effort.
"My family's always had this idea that you need civic engagement," she says. Their daughter, Kathryn, is also helping out this season.
Kathryn, 22, a recent Georgetown University graduate, said she's applying these days to graduate schools to study emergency management. This is, of course, a subject of vital interest to her father, whose crisis leadership at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority through superstorm Sandy only a year ago won him positive notice.
Terrie Henry, chief Giuliani fundraiser in that close 1989 race, calls Tamra Lhota "a connector" among people who rallied support for a mutual friend struggling with what proved to be fatal breast cancer. "Tamra's a woman of great faith who in the most miserable situation will find something kind to say to the other person," Henry says.
During Joe Lhota's time in City Hall, Tamra Lhota ran a nonprofit corporation called Public Private Initiatives. It continues today as the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. From PPI, the Twin Towers Fund was spun off, which after 9/11 under a separate board ultimately distributed millions of donated dollars to families of deceased police, fire and Port Authority officers.
A few years later, Joe Lhota was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he beat, but not before it became a "very scary" episode in their lives. "When he hit the five-year [cancer-free] mark it was a very happy day," Tamra Lhota says.
Did she encourage his mayoral run? She says: "I am extremely supportive of his decision, but this is a decision Joe didn't need encouragement for. I mean, Joe really thought about it, sifted it through, and came and said 'This is what I'd like to do.' And I thought, 'Great, we're in.' "