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Does NYC mayoral race hang by a hair? Joe Lhota's beard wants to know

Republican candidate for New York City Mayor Joe

Republican candidate for New York City Mayor Joe Lhota speaks on the steps of City Hall asking for a debate with demoncartic candidate Bill de Blasio in Manhattan. (Sept. 19, 2013) Credit: John Roca

Not only is Republican Joe Lhota trying to make up big ground in the polls against Democrat Bill de Blasio, he's trying to defy history by becoming the first bearded New York City mayor in 100 years.

Only three of the mayors in the past century have had facial hair, the last being David Dinkins and his mustache from 1989 to 1993. You'd have go way back to 1913 to get a mayor with a full beard: William Jay Gaynor. Political experts and beard fans said a factor behind the gap may come from the old stereotype that bearded folks can't be trusted.

Daniel Mitchell, 34, the president of the enthusiast group Gotham City Beard Alliance, said city voters, especially younger ones, are less suspicious of a leader with facial hair.

"I don't know where it comes from," he said. "A lot of great people had beards, like Jesus."

De Blasio, 52, said he shaved the beard he had in 2011 because it was going gray.

"I didn't leave the beard, the beard left me," he said.

In a statement, Lhota, 58, who has had his beard since college, said it was a shame that his opponent didn't decide to keep his facial hair.

"My wife and daughter have given me the stamp of approval so that's all I need -- although they did tell me I don't pull it off quite as well as Brad Pitt," he said, joking.

Andrew Moesel, a political strategist for Sheinkopf Ltd., said that when it comes to representing one of the largest cities in the world, the mayor is expected to keep up a classy appearance.

Several New Yorkers said they really didn't care if a candidate had facial hair.

Ralph Esposito, 59, who said he had a mustache for one summer, called the issue irrelevant.

"I don't think it should be a determent," he said.

Jackie Mills, 35, of the Upper East Side, said she doesn't find facial hair on guys appealing, but doesn't judge a candidate based on it. "If they like it, they should keep it. I prefer candidates who stay true to themselves and don't change to get votes," she said.

Mitchell, who is hosting a charity beard competition in December, also pushed for all candidates to be honest with their faces.

"The U.S. is the only place that has this problem," he said of the beard stigma. "You go to Israel or the Middle East, and everyone has a beard. No one looks at them and says, 'I wouldn't vote for that guy.' "


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