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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Lhota has his work cut out for him in NYC mayor race

New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota

New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota participates in a primary mayoral debate at the WABC/Channel 7 studios in Manhattan. (Aug. 9, 2013) Credit: James Keivom/Pool

If you're Joe Lhota, engaged in a long-shot battle for City Hall, certain tactics become obvious.

As a Republican, you can use variations of familiar "tax-and-spend," "soft-on-crime," "union darling," "class warfare" slogans -- carefully crafted for a New York audience -- against your Democratic foe.

You know that as a slogan, the "Tale of Two Cities" -- an old Democratic Party favorite reclaimed by your rival Bill de Blasio -- has been far from foolproof.

It was the title of Mario Cuomo's famous 1984 Democratic National Convention speech, in support of landslide loser Walter Mondale. Closer to home, Fernando Ferrer ran for mayor in 2001 and 2005 citing the "two New Yorks." He lost both races.

Poverty and income inequality are real, you'll argue, but so are your strategies to address them, versus de Blasio's.

In another race, or in another time or place, you might have been tempted to play up the personal revelation this week that de Blasio and wife once honeymooned in Cuba and that he visited Sandinista Nicaragua. That may resonate with your having blasted de Blasio's vision as "radical." But you haven't gone personal, nor would it necessarily work if you did.

But you play offense.

As underdog, you can demand debates every 10 minutes if necessary, expecting de Blasio to ignore you for a while, but allowing you to credibly ask why the front-runner is avoiding you. That's textbook stuff.

As the GOP-Conservative candidate, you'll find some Democratic elected officials willing to defect to your side, knowing how good a cross-partisan endorsement can look.

As a candidate who has watched other campaigns, you know that opponent de Blasio's 40-point-plus lead in polls is doomed to shrink before Nov. 5.

As a first-time candidate, you will hear your advisers remind you to suppress offhand remarks, no matter how amusing.

In every forum available, you will display your resume as a seasoned executive in the private and public spheres -- and knock de Blasio's lack of similar props.

As victor in a bruising GOP primary, you'd like to recoup voters who backed John Catsimatidis -- who won conservative-friendly Staten Island in amassing 41 percent citywide -- even if your party is out-enrolled 6-1.

You sound confident your fundraising will pick up, predicting you'll be "on parity" with de Blasio within the city's public campaign finance program.

You may have to repair early damage. If polls are to be taken at all seriously at this point, Catsimatidis may have done your reputation some harm by hyping your "mall cops" comment about the Port Authority police, for which you'd apologized. There was also the silly kerfuffle about whether to stop service for cats on the subway rails.

And you'll run against the psychological headwind of a fixed idea in political circles that you just cannot win, barring some extraordinary set of events.

Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president who ran against Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1997, says Lhota was mostly a "good person in government" but doesn't see him having a shot.

"I think there are reasons Giuliani and [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg won, in each case, when they did," Messinger said. "It never represented a turning to Republican mayors, really." She said she doesn't see Lhota energizing voters.

If you're Joe Lhota, you have lots to do in this six-week adventure -- if it's doable at all.


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