Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota Tuesday escalated his attack of Democratic rival Bill de Blasio's left-wing activist past, saying his political philosophy is a page "out of the Marxist playbook."
De Blasio, who worked in Nicaragua more than two decades ago as a Sandinistas supporter, dismissed Lhota's "increasingly silly" attacks. "I've worked on issues of inequality my whole life," he said. "My opponent is trying to obscure a discussion of today's issues."
De Blasio, 52, and his wife also honeymooned in Cuba in 1994, despite a U.S. ban on Americans traveling to the communist country.
Lhota and other Republicans have criticized de Blasio's "the tale of two cities" platform as class warfare, saying de Blasio's past is a clue to how he would govern if elected.
"His policies haven't indicated any change whatsoever," Lhota, 58, said after a Manhattan forum. "Anybody who loves the Sandinistas as much as he does, anybody who wants to support the Sandinistas, who are a pro-Marxist -- it speaks for itself."
At a lower Manhattan news conference where he received an endorsement from Comptroller John Liu, de Blasio said: "I am a progressive who believes in an activist approach to government. You can call it whatever the heck you want."
De Blasio and his son Dante, 16, Tuesday night met briefly with President Barack Obama, who was in New York for UN meetings.
Obama told attendees of the National Democratic Committee fundraiser at Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria hotel that he had an Afro similar to Dante's in 1978, though his "was never that good."
Obama said Bill de Blasio would, if elected mayor, move the city "in a direction where everybody has a chance to get ahead," according to a White House press pool report.
Mike Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, which backs Lhota, said learning more about de Blasio's "strong socialist, Marxist tendencies" will help Lhota earn votes, donations and volunteers. "I think it's going to wake up a lot of people who may get engaged in the campaign and say they really don't want to go down the path of increased taxes and more government."
Ryan Girdusky, a Republican political operative unaffiliated with Lhota's campaign, said Lhota, who is trailing in the polls, has nothing to lose by portraying de Blasio as a radical. "It might excite the base, but citywide, I don't know how effective it'll be."
De Blasio Tuesday also agreed to participate in three debates after Lhota had challenged him to weekly faceoffs in all five boroughs leading up to the Nov. 5 election.
The Lhota campaign said de Blasio's decision to attend debates all slated to be held in Manhattan was "disappointing," adding that New Yorkers in all boroughs deserve to learn more about their next mayor. De Blasio said the three debates will provide "ample opportunities to see the real differences between the candidates."