Democrat Bill de Blasio has shown the city a breathtaking tour de force as his mayoral campaign roars toward Election Day with a giant lead.
There's much he has done right. He sized up the political zeitgeist with canny clarity early on and deftly seized on the electorate's burgeoning fatigue with Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
He's a natural on the campaign trail -- smart, personable and always on message. Even his divisive tale-of-two-cities theme is doing what it was meant to do. It has put him so far in the lead that even his natural adversaries in the business world honor him now with standing ovations when he speaks at their events.
But here's the crucial question for voters as they head to the polls on Nov. 5. Would de Blasio -- big lead aside -- make a better mayor than his moderate Republican rival, Joe Lhota?
We believe he would not.
De Blasio, a political strategist by trade, has recently served as a city councilman and is currently New York City's public advocate. He's a liberal ideologue who knows how to weave a simple story from complex economic figures. Yet the subtext of his campaign is that the rich among us are prospering on the backs of the poor.
Bronx-born Joe Lhota by contrast is a classic, plain-speaking New Yorker with deep roots in the working class of this city and an abiding faith in the strong machinery of upward mobility that has helped us reinvent ourselves time and again. Lhota knows -- from his own hard experience -- that the city must be run competently before it can serve its 8.4 million people with dignity and effectiveness.
Last year he saw the MTA through the massive destruction of superstorm Sandy and -- in a much-heralded triumph -- had the subways running just days after the storm.
Lhota has also run the city's Finance Department and was a deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani on 9/11.
He was at Ground Zero every day following the terror attacks -- riding herd on rescue and recovery efforts and working to get city agencies reopened as quickly as possible.
He knows his way through the halls of the private sector, too. He has been an investment banker, and also has held executive positions at Madison Square Garden and Cablevision, owner of amNewYork.
This matters because the next mayor will find himself running a city with 300,000 workers and a budget of $70 billion a year. He also will face more than 150 expired union contracts that are begging for quick settlements -- in a national economy still getting well after the Great Recession.
Lhota plainly has the administrative chops to run a city as complex and as crucial as New York City.
De Blasio doesn't come close.
At the same time, it's extremely hard to see how de Blasio can deliver on his signature proposal to raise local income taxes on New Yorkers making more than $500,000 and pour the money into a citywide prekindergarten program.
Some pesky facts get in the way.
For starters, Albany controls the local income tax. And Albany already has extended its surcharge on state income taxes for "the rich." It's in no mood to pile on with another hike for the city just to make de Blasio happy.
De Blasio says the income tax increase will bring in $500 million for the program -- but the city is getting half of that amount now from the state for pre-k. So why insist the money come from a big tax hike?
Lhota is a booster of universal pre-K, but would pay for it with existing revenues -- a more reasonable approach.
The strangest stand in de Blasio's playbook may be his opposition to adding charter schools in the city.
There are successful charters that outdo their district counterparts in poorer neighborhoods, where pupils and parents desperately need all the success stories they can find. So why isn't every candidate backing them with enthusiasm and urging the city to use them as laboratories to determine what methods of teaching work best?
Why can't lessons learned from charters be spread to all schools in the city? Why should charters have to operate in such an unwelcoming atmosphere? Lhota is a strong supporter of charters.
While de Blasio has a commanding lead, it doesn't mean all his ideas are sound. It doesn't mean he's qualified for one of the toughest jobs in America.
Joe Lhota is clearly the superior candidate. amNewYork endorses Lhota for mayor.