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Bill de Blasio, Joe Lhota spar in first debate

mayoral debate

mayoral debate Photo Credit: Joe Lhota, left, and Bill de Blasio (Pool)

Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio tried to brand Joe Lhota’s Republicanism as a scarlet letter last night during the first of three debates.

De Blasio, with a commanding 3-to-1 lead in the polls, repeatedly hammered Lhota as being a tea-party coddler whose party allegiance is “enabling” the federal government shutdown.

“We don’t need Republican trickle down economics or tea-party extremism,” de Blasio said. “We need a new, progressive vision for this city that leaves no one behind.”

During the 55-minute debate, Lhota was on the defensive, seeking, as he has during the past few weeks, to distance himself from his national brethren.
“Don’t lump me in with people I’m constantly in disagreement with,” Lhota said. “It’s not the right thing to do.”

Lhota tore into de Blasio, tarring him as an untested as a municipal executive and contending that his policies on crime, taxes and education would send the city spiraling backwards.

“I’ve been there before and I’ve done it. I can be there on Day One without any training, without any learning curve whatsoever,” said Lhota, a former deputy mayor and budget director in the Giuliani administration.

The candidates disagreed on almost every issue moderators put to them: support for charter schools (de Blasio wants to charge most of them rent in traditional public school buildings; Lhota considers them an out for failing schools); subsidies for corporations (de Blasio said Lhota “never met a corporate subsidy he didn’t like”; Lhota considers them vital to keeping employers from fleeing town) and the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactic. (Lhota supports the practice; de Blasio would revamp it.)

Last night’s faceoff at WABC Channel 7 was the first of three between the candidates. Before the Nov. 5 election, they will debate twice more: Oct. 22 and Oct. 29.

Lhota is banking on the debates to reverse polls showing de Blasio with margins of victory between 40 and 50 percentage points, but some experts said his performance last night is unlikely to move the needle.

“Lhota was completely on the defensive, and when you’re 50 points down, you have to be on the offensive,” said Christina Greer, Fordham University assistant professor of political science. “He sort of got lost in the weeds, and there were so many opportunities for him to really distance himself from de Blasio and make some key points, but he never did. He never played up his experience, and he doesn’t have a cohesive narrative at all.”

She noted that de Blasio wasn’t taking his lead for granted. “He didn’t just sort of phone it in, he came as if he was going up against a competitor who is only a couple points away from him. And if you do it that way, you keep people thinking that you’re the leader and you are going to win this thing.”

(With Emily Ngo)

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