New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, right,...

New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, right, and Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota shake hands at the conclusion of their first televised debate at WABC/Channel 7 studios in Manhattan. (Oct. 15, 2013) Credit: James Keivom

Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio Wednesday battled over the Republican's TV ad warning that New York City will revert to its worst days of crime and chaos if de Blasio is elected mayor.

Lhota's 30-second spot, titled "Can't Go Back," cycles through decades-old photos of a far grittier city, one beset by riots, bodies in the street, graffiti-covered subway trains and marauding street toughs. A voice says: "Bill de Blasio's recklessly dangerous agenda on crime will lead to this."

The ad also shows the viral video of a motorcycle gang last month attacking a family's SUV on the Henry Hudson Parkway. A narrator says that de Blasio's response to the attack as mayor would be only to send the police to talk to the bikers. In fact, de Blasio has said he would deploy the police to aggressively arrest and deter such behavior.

Democrat de Blasio called the ad "desperate" and "divisive."

"A lot of us went through the 1980s, the 1990s. We saw the way politics developed, sadly, for the worst. This is just like the Willie Horton ad," de Blasio said, referring to a TV spot for George H.W. Bush during the 1988 presidential race that critics denounced as race-baiting. The Horton ad blamed Bush's opponent, Democrat Michael Dukakis, for a black inmate committing rape and assault after fleeing a prison furlough program Dukakis supported as Massachusetts governor.

The Lhota ad focuses mainly on generalized images of violence and urban decay and doesn't target a particular race.

Joseph Mercurio, a veteran political consultant who has worked for candidates of both parties, said Lhota's ad was "more subtle" than the Horton spot, but is "playing out of a playbook that doesn't work now. . . . It's not going to get him any votes."

Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud defended the ad: "Bill de Blasio and his supporters are lashing out because they know New Yorkers don't agree with his reckless and dangerous positions on crime."

De Blasio and Lhota have clashed repeatedly over their policing platforms. Lhota, a deputy mayor during the Giuliani era, supports the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk policy as essential for crime control. De Blasio, the city's public advocate, calls it racial profiling and vows to revamp the practice.

The ad was Lhota's latest line of attack to try to make up a 3-to-1 polling gap three weeks before the Nov. 5 election.

Separately, de Blasio yesterday said he was hopeful that his proposal to raise taxes on New Yorkers earning more than $500,000 a year to fund universal prekindergarten could be approved in Albany -- even after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said a day earlier that he's looking to lower taxes next year.

De Blasio said he took heart from another part of the governor's remarks, that de Blasio is welcome to come to Albany to make his case.

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