Joe Lhota campaign scrambles to fix 'image' problem

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota speaks with reporters Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota speaks with reporters as he visits with residents and shop owners on 13th Avenue in Brooklyn. (Oct. 16 2013) Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

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Joe Lhota's mayoral campaign scrambled Thursday to cut deals with photographers whose pictures of New York's crime-ridden past were used without their permission in a television ad against rival Bill de Blasio.

The 30-second spot, titled "Can't Go Back," was released Wednesday and features nine images, including graffiti-painted subway trains, rioters, corpses and an overturned police car. A narrator says de Blasio's "recklessly dangerous agenda on crime will take us back to" a violent time in the city.

Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud said the images came from the photo-sharing website Flickr, and the campaign believed they were tagged as royalty-free. "We did our best to find everyone we could," Proud said Wednesday.

Thursday night, Proud said the campaign reached a deal with two of the photographers -- Richard Sandler, who snapped an elderly woman clutching a pole inside a graffiti-covered subway train in 1985, and Matt Weber, who captured a fight outside a Times Square X-rated theater in 1989.

Proud said they could not contact all the photographers. But Newsday spoke with Q. Sakamaki, who photographed rioters at Tompkins Square Park in 1991 and a corpse on a Lower East Side sidewalk in 1990, and Eli Reed, who captured the NYPD rescuing a couple under attack by Crown Heights rioters.

Sakamaki said he hasn't been contacted by Lhota aides about his photos, and "I'm very upset that somebody would use it for a political campaign."

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Proud and Reed disagreed about whether the campaign had purchased the picture from the Magnum photo agency, which represents him.

Reed, now a photography professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said he wouldn't allow his work to be featured in such a political ad.

Sandler declined to comment, but Weber said he negotiated a settlement in the $2,000 range with Lhota aide Jake Menges. The photographer said he agreed because he needs the money and is confident de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, will win.

"I could not live with this guy having been elected," Weber said.

At a fundraiser Thursday night, Lhota wasn't available for comment.

Meanwhile, de Blasio's campaign responded with a lighter-hearted commercial Thursday, "Attention." It featured his daughter, Chiara, 18, her head wreathed in pink roses, and a cameo by his son, Dante, 16.

"Now that my dad's on the move, his opponents are on the attack," Chiara says, before ticking off what her father hopes to accomplish if elected, such as funding prekindergarten, policing and keeping hospitals open.

"All of this attention, it's a good thing, as long as it's not your little brother," she concludes in a nod to Dante's game-changing primary ad.

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The Lhota commercial also includes video of a confrontation between motorcyclists and a man on the Upper West Side last month. Andrew Vecere, a lawyer for Kevin Bresloff, 37, of Bellport, who shot the melee with his helmet-mounted camera, said Lhota's camp didn't have permission to use the footage and did not reach out to him Thursday.

"Maybe you should contact me to discuss this?" Vecere tweeted Thursday to the Lhota campaign.

Proud said the video has been all over the news and it's "absolutely appropriate for us to use." The attorney said he plans to send a cease-and-desist letter Friday.

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