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Joe Lhota defeats John Catsimatidis in GOP mayoral primary

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, former CEO of

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, former CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, waves to the media after voting in the New York City mayoral primary in Brooklyn. (Sept. 10, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

GOP mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota defeated John Catsimatidis Tuesday night in the party's primary election, leaving him eight weeks to win over voters in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 6-to-1 margin.

Lhota, a former transit chief and Giuliani administration deputy mayor, beat Catsimatidis, a grocery and oil mogul, 52.6 percent to 40.7 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting as of midnight, according to The Associated Press. Long-shot candidate George McDonald, an advocate for the poor, had 6.7 percent.

"It was a skilled candidate against an amateur," said Kenneth Sherrill, an emeritus professor of political science at Hunter College, of the Lhota-Catsimatidis matchup. "The voters could see that."

Previewing a clash of November's general election, Lhota's victory speech took a veiled swipe at Bill de Blasio, the front-runner in the Democratic primary. That race had not yet been called.

"I hear an awful lot coming from the other side about the 'tale of two cities' and how they want to tear down the progress that's happened over the last 20 years," said Lhota, his wife and daughter nearby. "This 'tale' is nothing more than class warfare -- an attempt to divide the city."

Lhota didn't mention de Blasio by name, but the reference was a clear attack on the de Blasio campaign message that New York has become a city of the rich and poor.

Lhota said he's seeking Catsimatidis and McDonald to rally behind him. Catsimatidis, looking somber and exhausted, said in a concession speech that he had called Lhota to admit defeat. But Catsimatidis didn't say whether he would endorse Lhota.

"The evening didn't go exactly the way we planned it," Catsimatidis said.

Lhota must now pivot to avoid the shadow of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who opinion polls show is unpopular among New Yorkers, Sherrill said.

"He's got to persuade people, as he's been saying, that the first Lhota term will not be the third Giuliani term -- or the fourth Bloomberg term," Sherrill said.

He said Lhota could bolster his popularity by promising he'll be a listener -- a trait critics say both Bloomberg and Giuliani lack. To that end, Lhota promised that "one of the first things I'll do as mayor" is to convene public "monthly town hall meetings" where the public can question him and his commissioners.

Hundreds gathered at a midtown Hilton to hear Lhota's speech. He offered a vision of New York City that is fiscally conservative and attractive to business. He gave a vigorous defense of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic, which his Democratic rivals have slammed as racist and unconstitutional.

"Handcuffing and demoralizing our police officers will have catastrophic consequences," Lhota said. "I will support the NYPD, and I believe that stop, question and frisk must continue."

Lhota and Catsimatidis had nearly identical policies -- both men rule out back pay for the city's municipal unions and vigorously endorse stop-and-frisk -- so the primary fight turned on temperament and resume: Lhota, the government technocrat and former corporate executive, against Catsimatidis, a rags-to-riches billionaire who funded his own campaign.

With Sheila Anne Feeney,

Jo Napolitano and Ellen Yan


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