New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota participates in...

New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota participates in a primary mayoral debate at the WABC/Channel 7 studios in New York. (Aug. 9, 2013) Credit: James Keivom/Pool

Joe Lhota, the blunt-talking, Bronx-born son of a New York City police lieutenant, is easily the standout in the field of Republican mayoral candidates.

A results-oriented policy expert, he served as deputy mayor and budget director under Rudy Giuliani and headed the MTA last year when Sandy hit.

Remarkably, he had most of the city's subway lines up and running just days after the storm.

In the private sector, he's been an investment banker and held executive positions with MSG and Cablevision, the owner of Newsday.

His ideas are succinct and basic common sense.

The stop-and-frisk program saves lives, Lhota says -- while adding that he understands the pushback coming from minority communities.

While the NYPD is now reining in stops and retraining officers, Lhota believes the next mayor must directly engage the public about the program. "It's unbelievable we've gotten to this point," he told Newsday. All citizens should know exactly what police can and cannot do.

Lhota, 58, would keep the middle class in the city by adding to its stock of affordable apartments. We need "the son of Mitchell-Lama," he says, referring to the program begun in 1955 that created 132 city-sponsored moderate- and middle-income co-op complexes.

Another crucial part of his plan is pushing ahead confidently with gains that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made in the public schools.

Lhota is for retaining strong mayoral control of the system, and he also favors charter schools. But he promises to listen closely to parental complaints -- never a Bloomberg strength.

Unfortunately, none of these issue-oriented ideas has enjoyed much resonance amid the frantic ad war that's raging on the GOP side. It has Lhota engaged in a noisy fight with billionaire John Catsimatidis, his chief rival in the Sept. 10 primary. The owner of Gristedes supermarkets, not to mention large holdings in energy and real estate, Catsimatidis has already outspent Lhota by more than 21/2 to 1.

And yet, Lhota holds a nearly 2-1 lead over Catsimatidis, according to a poll released Thursday by amNewYork and News 12.

One reason: Lhota's ideas are clear and savvy, while it's all but impossible to figure out what Catsimatidis stands for. He has no vision for the city, and he's not ready to take on the responsibility of leading it, either.

Early in the campaign, Catsimatidis made it clear he reveres Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, thinks it's time the city hosted another world's fair -- preferably run by Michael Bloomberg -- and regards himself as a forward-looking advocate for New York's needs.

But Lhota knows how to navigate the arcane labyrinths of government with proven skill. Catsimatidis, by contrast, is an ultrasuccessful businessman with a few vague ideas about politics and governance.

One Catsimatidis ad assails Lhota for a steep round of MTA fare hikes. The real story: Lhota had no choice. The worst economy since the 1930s broke the MTA budget. Lhota backed the hikes to keep both people and a fragile recovery moving.

Catsimatidis also chastises Lhota for calling Port Authority police officers "mall cops." Though Lhota apologized for the remark, he does have a troublesome habit of launching verbal fireworks first and backtracking later. While New Yorkers love mayors with outsized personalities, insults accomplish nothing.

Also in the GOP primary race is George McDonald, who started the Doe Fund, providing services to about 1,000 homeless people a day. That's a praiseworthy accomplishment but it doesn't make him ready for Gracie Mansion.

Joe Lhota is the smart choice in the Republican mayoral primary.


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