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Joe Lhota defeats John Catsimatidis to win Republican mayoral nomination

Joe Lhota

Joe Lhota Credit: Joe Lhota declares victory at the Hilton Midtown Hotel. (Anthony Lanzilote)

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GOP mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota defeated John Catsimatidis Tuesday 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, led Catsimatidis, a grocery and oil mogul, 52 to 41 percent with 79 percent of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press. Long-shot candidate George McDonald, an advocate for the poor, had 6.7%.

“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.”

Opinion polls in the weeks before the race cast Lhota as the commanding front-runner.

But the winner must pivot closer to the political center to avoid the shadow of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who opinion polls show is unpopular among New Yorkers, Sherrill said.

Lhota must convince voters he isn’t going to be a Giuliani clone, 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.

Sherrill said Lhota could bolster his popularity by promising the public he’ll be a listener — a trait critics said both Bloomberg and Giuliani lacked.

But Mike Long, head of the Conservative party, which endorsed Lhota in June, said he can beat the Democratic nominee in the general election by distinguishing himself as the candidate who would continue the crime-fighting, economy-stimulating successes of the past quarter century under Giuliani and Bloomberg.

“This is about going back to the old policies of the ’70s and the early ’80s or continued movement forward in job growth in economic growth and keeping people safe and improving on education,” Long said.

About 125 people gathered at a midtown Hilton to await Lhota’s speech.

Among them was Bryan Cooper, 46, of the Lower East Side, who worked in the Giuliani administration with Lhota. Cooper called him a “no-nonsense guy” with solid managerial experience.

Cooper, who is black, also backs Lhota’s stalwart defense of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic as vital to crime control.

“Are their problems with stop and frisk? Yeah,” said Cooper, who says he’s been stopped by the police five times. “But don’t demolish it completely.”

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 has turned on the candidates’ temperament and resumes: Lhota, the government technocrat and former corporate executive against Catsimatidis, a rags-to-riches billionaire who funded his own campaign.

Both men were first-time candidates, and it showed in their occasional gaffes. In May, Lhota likened Port Authority police officers to “mall cops,” and a few months earlier Catsimatidis told a newspaper that he “never really felt the recession.”

With Sheila Anne Feeney and Jo Napolitano

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