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Lhota, de Blasio clash on values, experience in final debate

New York City mayoral candidates Joe Lhota, left,

New York City mayoral candidates Joe Lhota, left, and Bill de Blasio speak during a debate in Manhattan. (Oct. 30, 2013) Credit: Peter Foley

In their third and final debate, underdog Joe Lhota and front-runner Bill de Blasio clashed Wednesday night over who has the better experience, vision and values to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York City.

Lhota, a Republican and former Giuliani-era deputy mayor, and de Blasio, a Democrat and the city's public advocate, made their closing arguments to voters six days before Tuesday's election.

"Despite your much ballyhooed resume, you don't understand what life in this city is like and what people in this city need," said de Blasio, who has made income inequality a hallmark issue.

Lhota angrily shot back: "Don't tell me I don't know what it means to be a New Yorker," recounting his parents' struggles to secure a place in the middle class.

The debate came hours after yet another opinion poll predicted a landslide victory for de Blasio. He holds a 39-point lead, little changed after the previous debates and TV ad blitzes by both candidates, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.

Lhota acknowledged his difficult predicament but held on to hope of a miracle comeback.

"It reminds me of that boxing match between Rocky and Drago," Lhota said, referring to the 1985 film "Rocky IV." "I mean, quite honestly, we know what happened in that match: The underdog won. New York loves an underdog -- and quite honestly, I am that underdog."

He likely remained so after the final debate, despite attempts to put de Blasio on the defensive, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist poll.

"The jabs were being tossed by the challenger to the front-runner, but I don't think any punches were thrown hard enough to change the dynamics of the campaign," Miringoff said.

Wednesday night, they clashed on issues -- whether to tax the rich or to offer subsidies to corporations and how to police the city -- and on what makes the right stuff for a leader.

Lhota was arguing that de Blasio's signature campaign pledge -- to tax those earning more than $500,000 a year to fund universal prekindergarten and after-school programs -- was unachievable. The plan requires Albany's approval, but next year Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the legislature are up for re-election and Cuomo has said he will not raise taxes.

"Real leaders not only have a plan B, but they have a plan C," Lhota said.

Countered De Blasio: "Leaders create a vision, get the people to buy into the vision and then go achieve the vision. You don't bargain against yourself. You don't come out and say, 'Well, I don't know if my vision will make it.' "

De Blasio argued against "giveaways" to corporations. Lhota said of his opponent: "He doesn't know how jobs are created."

Echoing a constant refrain of the race, the mayors who first brought each into city government -- Rudy Giuliani for Lhota and David Dinkins for de Blasio -- continued to shadow the candidates.

De Blasio tore into Giuliani's legacy as years of division and strife. Lhota staunchly defended his former boss as a man who brought crime down.

De Blasio also charged that Lhota's policies are indistinguishable from the "trickle-down economics" of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Not much would change from Bloomberg if Lhota were elected, De Blasio asserted.

Lhota bridled.

"It's really unfair that you use your opportunity to still keep running against Mike Bloomberg," he said. "You're running against me. Let's talk about what I want."

With Emily Ngo

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