Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota's campaign sought to paint a visit by his Democratic rival Bill de Blasio to Sandy-ravaged Far Rockaway Sunday as a publicity stunt, accusing the front-runner of "blatant political maneuvering" and doing little to help residents before running for office.
"Where was Bill when people truly needed an advocate in government?" spokeswoman Jessica Proud asked in a statement. She said de Blasio's visit "at the height of the campaign season is insulting" to residents and business owners who have suffered during the public advocate's "failed time in office."
De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan shot back, telling a reporter to read the section of the candidate's policy book that details how de Blasio mobilized workers and helped New Yorkers navigate city, state and federal disaster assistance after the Oct. 29 storm devastated much of the region.
Lhota and de Blasio stumped separately seven miles apart Sunday in storm-damaged parts of Queens as the first anniversary of superstorm Sandy looms. The storm killed 48 people in New York State and inflicted billions of dollars in damage on homes and businesses, many of which have not yet recovered.
In Far Rockaway Sunday, de Blasio toured a shuttered hospital, a devastated home and a church filled with residents struggling to rebuild their lives.
"We've just scratched the surface of what needs to happen for people in the Rockaways and many other neighborhoods," he told about 300 people gathered at St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Gertrude parish. "The storm, the actual waves, floodwaters receded months ago, but the crisis is continuing for so many people."
De Blasio enjoyed a rock star's reception. People mobbed him after he spoke, to shake his hand and to share their stories.
Lhota was among friends at the Columbus Day Parade in Howard Beach, a GOP stronghold that suffered Sandy damage. Many were encouraging, shouting "You've got my vote, Joe!" as he shook hands and high-fived supporters.
Asked about de Blasio's visit, Lhota said he himself toured the Rockaways about a dozen times before the Sept. 10 primary election, with little press attention. He was chairman of the MTA when Sandy hit and is credited with helping to get the public transit system quickly up and running.
"I spent an enormous amount of time there," he said. "I was there the day after the storm hit, working with the communities to make sure they get up and running. I think the city response was not as active as it should be."
Lhota has proposed reinvigorating the Office of Emergency Management, building jetties on the beaches and focusing resources on area small businesses.
De Blasio said his long-term recovery plan for storm-affected areas includes fighting for living wages, building affordable housing and saving local hospitals.