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GOP mayoral candidates knock Bloomberg policies

New York Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald, right,

New York Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald, right, squares off against fellow Republican candidates, John Catsimatidis, left, and Joe Lhota, during a televised debate in Manhattan. (Aug. 28, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, debating his rivals Wednesday night, said he would consider rolling back some of incumbent Michael Bloom-berg's signature policies.

Lhota distanced himself from Bloomberg on pedestrian plazas that reduce traffic lanes at Times Square and Herald Square, standardized testing for public school students that he said was implemented too quickly, public housing he implied was inadequately funded, and the mayor's attempt to ban large sodas, which he said is beyond government's role.

Lhota appeared with GOP rivals John Catsimatidis, who also signaled disagreement with some Bloomberg policies, and George McDonald, at a televised city-sponsored debate at CUNY's Graduate Center.

On police issues, both Lhota and Catsimatidis voiced strong support for the Bloomberg administration and the NYPD on stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of certain mosques that came under scrutiny by city counterterror investigators.

Asked what they would tell their own children if they felt violated over a stop-and-frisk by the NYPD, Lhota said he would hand his daughter the relevant Supreme Court decision governing lawful stops, and if the encounter were improper, "say we have a situation here." Catsimatidis answered, "I would say to him, 'Well, what did you do to provoke it?' I would say to him, 'Were you dressed funny? Were you walking funny? Did you look funny?' "

Both said they found nothing wrong with the NYPD declaring entire mosques as terrorist organizations, which was reported Wednesday by The Associated Press, in order to be able to infiltrate and surveil them.

Polls have shown Lhota, who formerly served as a deputy mayor for Rudy Giuliani and as head of the MTA, leading Catsimatidis, a billionaire grocery magnate who's financing his own campaign. McDonald, who runs a nonprofit group for the poor, has been in third place.

On pedestrian plazas, Lhota and Catsimatidis said they wouldn't be opposed to reopening closed streets, saying there wasn't enough consultation with people and businesses in those neighborhoods. Lhota, while backing standardized testing in general, said it was put into effect "way too fast," leaving everyone "flying blind." Catsimatidis said he opposes the practice of "teaching to the test."

"We should teach to teach," Catsimatidis said.

Despite the disagreements, Lhota, Catsimatidis and McDonald all praised Bloomberg. McDonald credited the mayor's policies for extending his life expectancy three years.

Lhota said: "Mayor Bloom-berg has done extraordinary things in making sure we live longer," but added, "I don't agree with the soda ban at all."

He said government can educate people about health and then let them make their own choices. With Emily Ngo

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