Joe Lhota is losing his battle to keep New York City free from Democratic rule, and he wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.
The Republican mayoral candidate was roundly criticized as passive last week after his Democratic opponent, Bill de Blasio, launched a series of attacks during their first one-on-one debate. In a rematch last night — and with really no place to go in the polls but up – Lhota came armed with barbs.
“For those of you out there in the middle class, hold on to your wallets,” Lhota warned as he talked about de Blasio’s plan to tax the rich to pay for universal pre-Kindergarten.
“You talk about tea so much you remind me of the Mad Hatter,” he said after de Blasio rehashed concern over Lhota meeting with TeaParty followers on Staten Island.
And finally, in his closing statement: “We are one mayor away from unsafe streets, unsafe schools and unsafe fiscal policy,” Lhota said. “For your sake, for your child’s sake, do you want your vote to be safe” — cue the pause — “or sorry?”
It was a night full of eye rolling, name calling and talking over one another and the moderator to the point that listeners could barely make out any words at all, as the candidates to lead the most populous U.S. city engaged face to face for the second of three times prior to the Nov. 5 election. There was even a Seinfeld reference: “yada, yada, yada…”
De Blasio, who leads by more than 40 percentage points in polls, made sure to highlight his differences with Lhota as he sought to paint him as a right-wing, trickle-down-economics-loving Republican. De Blasio wants to curb the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk tactics, end an era he says has favored charter schools over traditional public schools and use a tax-the-rich plan to reduce income inequality and benefit all. Follow this path at your peril, Lhota warns voters, and end up with higher crime, failed students and middle-class misery.
“What color is the sky on your planet?” Lhota asked his opponent in an especially heated moment that also elicited laughter from the crowd.
“Mr. Lhota appears to think he has his own planet,” de Blasio shot back. It came after Lhota said he was “sick and tired” of de Blasio “impugning” the reputation of former mayor
Rudy Guiliani, under whom Lhota served as budget director. That’s where the Democrat says his opponent cultivated a divisive and ”race-baiting” style of politicking.
Facing reporters after the one-hour duel concluded, de Blasio reacted to the change in style his opponent had just deployed.
“I respect zingy one-liners, but it doesn’t replace substance, it doesn’t replace policy,” de Blasio said. “He doesn’t have a vision for the future of this city, except to say more of the same.”