Lhota Says He’s Underdog ‘Rocky’ in NYC Against De Blasio

New York Republican mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota, who trails Democrat Bill de Blasio by about 40 points in the polls, compared himself to the movie hero “Rocky” in predicting an upset victory in the last debate before the Nov. 5 election.

“We know what happened in that match, the underdog won,” Lhota said, referring to the fictional Philadelphia boxer and his towering Russian nemesis in “Rocky IV,” standing a head shorter next to de Blasio, who’s 6-foot-5. “New York loves an underdog and quite honestly I’m that underdog.”

The two candidates used their third encounter last night to clash over job creation. De Blasio, 52, proposed training programs and city-backed small business loans, while Lhota, 59, emphasized tax cuts and abatements to lure growing companies.

Lhota’s underdog description may have been an understatement with a Quinnipiac University poll yesterday showing de Blasio ahead 65 percent to 26 percent. Among black voters, de Blasio leads, 90 percent to 1 percent. The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, involved 728 likely voters surveyed Oct. 25-29.

The racial split may reflect Lhota’s persistent attacks on former Democratic Mayor David Dinkins, the city’s first and only black mayor, who served from 1990 to 1994. De Blasio was a young member of Dinkins’s staff. Dinkins was defeated for re-election in 1993 by Republican Rudolph Giuliani. Lhota served as a top aide to Giuliani for eight years.

Racial Split

De Blasio described Giuliani as one of the city’s most divisive leaders. A Quinnipiac poll in August 2000, Giuliani’s seventh year in office, showed 63 percent of white voters approved of his performance while 63 percent of blacks didn’t. It was one of several surveys that showed Giuliani dividing the city along racial lines, Maurice Carroll, director of the Hamden, Connecticut-based university’s polling institute, said in a September interview.

Lhota contrasted Giuliani’s administration, a time when homicides dropped by 66 percent, with Dinkins’s four years in office, when murders hit a peak of more than 2,000 a year. Lhota didn’t mention the totals began a downward trend while Dinkins was in office.

“I’ll take the Giuliani years over the Dinkins years any time,” Lhota said, describing the Dinkins administration as “a horror.”

Although the candidates have disagreed over the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy, both said officers needed more training to reduce the practice so that it’s a more effective law enforcement tool. A federal judge ruled in August that the tactic unfairly targeted young minority men.

Ruling Appealed

Lhota has said he would pursue Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s appeal of that ruling; de Blasio would not.

Bloomberg, 71, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is legally barred from seeking a fourth term.

The candidates differed over what it takes to be a manager, with Lhota belittling de Blasio’s signature proposal to tax incomes above $500,000 to pay for universal all-day pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. Lhota said the Democrat won’t say how he would pay for the plan if state lawmakers reject the tax increase.

“Real leaders not only have a Plan B, they have a Plan C,” Lhota said.

De Blasio replied: “Real leaders don’t bargain against themselves.”

Put-Downs

The debate included put-downs of each other’s resume.

“He has absolutely no experience,” Lhota said of de Blasio, a former Brooklyn city councilman elected in 2009 to the citywide watchdog office of public advocate. “Look at the mid-level jobs he’s had.”

De Blasio also was regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development while now-Governor Andrew Cuomo headed it during President Bill Clinton’s administration. De Blasio also managed Hillary Clinton’s successful 2000 U.S. Senate campaign.

Lhota was a deputy mayor to Giuliani during the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack, and chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest U.S. transit agency, with 66,000 workers and a $13 billion annual budget. The system carries 8.5 million riders a day on subways, buses and commuter railroads.

He also worked as a municipal bond banker and as an executive for the Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG)

‘Don’t Understand’

“Despite your much-ballyhooed resume, you don’t understand what life in this city is like,” de Blasio said to Lhota. He described himself as someone who would be “on the side of everyday New Yorkers.”

De Blasio said Lhota “clearly has made his campaign about tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.”

Lhota, who was born in the Bronx to a New York police lieutenant and raised in Lindenhurst, Long Island, had the last word when asked what was the biggest misconception voters have of him.

“My humble beginnings and my family being in a level of poverty,” said Lhota, who has disclosed a net worth of $13 million. “Yes, I’ve been successful in my career -- I’m the epitome of the American Dream.” He said the message about his modest beginnings “isn’t getting out there enough.”

He characterized de Blasio’s “Tale of Two Cities” campaign theme, emphasizing income inequality, as divisive. “The message about the tale of two de Blasios -- that’s not getting out there,” Lhota said.

De Blasio, who for months trailed in a field of seven Democrats before winning the Sept. 10 primary, said after the debate that he knows how it feels to be an underdog.

“I’m a big Stallone fan so I actually personally relate more to being the Rocky character,” he said with a laugh, referring to Sylvester Stallone, who played Rocky. “I feel very good about where we stand.”

-- Editors: Pete Young, Michael Shepard

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net Esme E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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