Joe Lhota, favored to win tomorrow's Republican mayoral primary, sought Sunday to broaden his appeal beyond his own party and draw distinctions between himself and the past two mayors elected on the GOP line -- Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
Lhota, a deputy mayor to Giuliani who is facing an electorate in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1, called himself a "Brooklyn Republican, a New York Republican" -- fiscally disciplined but otherwise liberal.
"When it comes to social issues, I am quite progressive. I'm foursquare for same-sex marriage. I'm foursquare for women's rights to choose," Lhota said during a debate against GOP rival John Catsimatidis. "I'm outside the mainstream of the Republican Party on a national basis."
Lhota began answering a question about minorities feeling marginalized during the Giuliani years by saying the former mayor's policies saved numerous lives.
But Lhota qualified the remark: "The fact of the matter is, this is going to be the first term of Joe Lhota, not the third term of Rudy Giuliani. I have always been known as a uniter. You talk to people in the African-American community and the Latino community."
Lhota also distanced himself from Bloomberg's comments, posted online Saturday by New York Magazine, that Democratic front-runner Bill de Blasio adopted a "racist" tactic by prominently featuring his multiracial family in his campaign.
"I don't think Bill de Blasio has been running a racially charged campaign," Lhota said.
But Lhota echoed another Bloomberg criticism -- that de Blasio is "running a campaign based on class warfare." On other Bloomberg comments -- such as that he'd like more billionaires to move to the city to pay for services for the poor -- Lhota said, "He could have chose different words, but I understand what he was talking about."
Lhota bookended the debate with Giuliani appearances, first rallying with his ex-boss at the campaign's Grand Central headquarters, and then again outside the debate studios at 30 Rock.
Giuliani panned the Democratic contenders, saying "every one of these Democratic candidates will destroy policing as we know it."
Giuliani said Lhota proved his chops after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when Lhota was the first person he saw at Ground Zero.
"I looked into Joe Lhota's eyes," Giuliani said. "They're eyes of steel."
During the debate, Lhota and Catsimatidis, a billionaire oil and supermarket mogul, agreed on issues ranging from public safety (both would continue Bloomberg's surveillance of mosques and stop-and-frisk policies) to back pay for the city's mostly unionized workforce (both believe the city can't afford the raises).
They disagreed over whether the United States should strike Syria, with Lhota saying yes, and Catsimatidis opposing a strike as increasing danger to New York City.