Bill de Blasio squared off with his mayoral rivals Monday as he defended his support of Nicaragua's former Sandinista government and his 1994 Cuban honeymoon.
Republican Joe Lhota and Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr. drew distinctions between their political philosophies and de Blasio's, and questioned how the front-runner's leftist activism more than two decades ago would influence him if he were elected mayor on Nov. 5.
"In his own words, he called himself a Democratic socialist," Lhota said. "It's really unfortunate that that's the level that we've come to in this city."
Carrion in a statement said, "Bill de Blasio's governing philosophy is based on failed policies that overburden government, overtax citizens, and promise more than can be delivered."
Lhota, 58, a former MTA chairman, and Carrion, 52, a former Bronx borough president, were reacting to a story in Monday's New York Times that detailed de Blasio's past work for a social justice group in Maryland and support for the Sandinistas, who had been denounced by the Reagan administration as dictatorial Communists.
Lhota said backing the Sandinistas "was absolutely not the right thing to do during the Cold War. . . . Going to Cuba illegally is never a good thing in this country."
De Blasio, 52, who earlier in the day got President Barack Obama's endorsement, dismissed the attacks as a typical "right-wing tactic."
"The reason I got involved in activist work from the beginning is I saw inequalities, I saw unfairness, whether it was what we faced in neighborhoods . . . or whether it was the way our country was treating small countries in our hemisphere," he said in Kew Gardens, where the Queens County Democratic Party endorsed him. "The values that I have put forward I think have been consistent over the last quarter century or more."
De Blasio didn't directly address his Cuban honeymoon, but said he believes the Cuban embargo has been "counterproductive for a long time."
Meanwhile, Obama endorsed the public advocate, saying: "Progressive change is the centerpiece of Bill de Blasio's vision for New York City, and it's why he will be a great mayor of America's largest city."
De Blasio said he didn't know if he would see the president while he is visiting the city Monday and Tuesday for the UN General Assembly and his campaign did not disclose whether the president will participate in de Blasio's election efforts.