New York City GOP mayoral candidate Joe Lhota waits moments...

New York City GOP mayoral candidate Joe Lhota waits moments before his first television debate with other GOP candidates on a NY1 set. (July 10, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Facing Republican primary voters in less than five weeks, New York City mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota ramped up his argument Tuesday that it would be a distortion to brand him "Rudy II."

Their backgrounds are different -- and so are the times, Lhota insisted.

The notion that he'd somehow be a clone of his former boss if elected could serve the purposes of detractors wishing to paint him as gratuitously combative. For example, an adviser to a Republican rival says: "They're cut out of the same bolt of cloth. It would be Rudy's third term."

Never mind that many Republicans might be pleased to back "another Giuliani," whatever the definition, given Giuliani's star-power image in some neighborhoods as the tough-talking champion of law and order. But rival GOP candidate John Catsimatidis has said of the alliance, in the context of Lhota's response to the 9/11 attacks, "You can't take the credit without taking the debit."

Lhota worked at City Hall during both Giuliani terms beginning in 1994, and rose to top deputy. But even with the ex-mayor and other Giuliani-crew alumni behind him both strategically and financially, and while acknowledging "we agree on lots of issues," Lhota told Newsday: "We're very different."

"He's a lawyer, I've been a businessperson. He went to law school and became a prosecutor; I was [an investment] banker. I was in the Giuliani administration because of my fiscal expertise. And what I bring to the table is very different," Lhota said.

Coincidentally, the former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and ex-Madison Square Garden Co. and Cablevision executive was asked the "Rudy II" question by Newsday within hours of a speech in which departing Mayor Michael Bloomberg evoked Detroit's collapse as a cautionary tale.

With pension and health costs having spiked in his three terms, Bloomberg warned that New York City would face financial calamity unless future leaders resist "shortsightedness, corruption, mismanagement and, perhaps most dangerous of all, special-interest politics."

Lhota -- who in the past has disputed Bloomberg administration claims to have corrected inherited fiscal problems from the Giuliani regime -- promptly endorsed this warning. "Mayor Bloomberg was making sure candidates are aware of the precarious financial situation we're in," Lhota said. "That's exactly my area of expertise."

He said the city cannot continue to pick up all employee health care costs and, "the day after I am elected, I will begin working with the city's union leaders to develop a strategy that will result in collective bargaining agreements fair to the workers and the public."

Back in 1993, tackling high crime and dirty streets led the priorities. As mayor, Lhota said, "I will bring in others to help me on criminal justice issues. . . . Now, in an era of very low crime, we have to make sure it's kept low, if not made lower."

Lhota's own vision, influenced by Giuliani's accomplishments and "some of the vision that Mayor Bloomberg has," focuses on economic matters, Lhota said. "How do we make the city affordable? How do we get the fiscal affairs of the city back in order again?" he asked. He called for expanding high-tech businesses and "reforming our public school system so our children can work in the new jobs."

Giuliani was not immediately available for comment.

The Dolan family owns a controlling interest in MSG and Cablevision, which owns Newsday.


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