Editorial: amNY picks Joe Lhota and Bill Thompson in mayoral primary
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 amNewYork.
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 amNewYork. 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.
In a Democratic mayoral race defined by over-the-top theatrics, faux populism and deeply personal failings, former city Comptroller Bill Thompson is a genuine and reassuring figure.
New Yorkers know him well and he knows New Yorkers well. But most important, Thompson knows how the city works and how to take it to the next level.
He took control of the Board of Education in the 1990s, when it was best known for chronic chaos and bickering. Using his political skills, Thompson was able to stabilize it. Test scores rose four straight years on his watch. And his hard work against long odds helped put the city's 32 district superintendents under the chancellor's control, paving the way for today's mayoral-run system.
While comptroller from 2002 through 2009, Thompson saw city pension funds grow by $20 billion through investments.
And he nearly upended the third-term mayoral dreams of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who flooded the 2009 campaign with $90 million but beat Thompson by just a 5 percent margin.
Now, as the Sept. 10 primary nears, Thompson, 60, is proving again that he has the talent and personal temperament to govern a city as raucous, complex and maddening as New York.
For all its newfound confidence, the city will face an onslaught of challenges in the next four years. Finances are a growing worry, as pension obligations, medical costs and other expenses take greater portions of the municipal budget. School reform has miles to go. So do efforts to keep the middle class from fleeing a city about to outprice it. And 152 expired contracts must be negotiated with city unions.
Among his Democratic rivals, Thompson's experience, political deftness and grasp of governance put him at the head of the pack.
He promises to reduce abuses in the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program with better training, an end to what he calls quotas for stops, and by requiring officers to state a legal reason for going through a citizen's pockets. People don't like to feel targeted, Thompson says: "The issue is respect."
He also pledges to clean up the administrative mess in the New York City Housing Authority and build more housing the middle class can afford.
Thompson told amNewYork he continues to back mayoral control of the schools. True, he has proposed to weaken the mayor's clout on the pivotal Panel for Educational Policy. He also has the endorsement of the powerful United Federation of Teachers, which wants mayoral control abolished. But as leader of the old Board of Ed, Thompson knows what a disaster looks like. He vows not to take us there again.
As for the rest of the field, it's an eclectic, flawed bunch:
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has made huge progress in the polls with his disingenuous Tale of Two Cities pitch. He wants to tax the wealthy even more to pay for citywide prekindergarten. But he can't do that without Albany's say-so, and Albany will never agree. So the only winner in this sham is de Blasio, the latest national avatar of the populist left.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn lacks executive experience and likes both sides of too many issues. She says she'd keep Ray Kelly on to run the NYPD, but she backed a law Kelly hates: imposing an inspector general on the department. Would Kelly stay? It seems unlikely. And recall her close working partnership with the mayor? Where'd that go?
City Comptroller John Liu, who floundered ever since two former campaign workers were convicted of improperly trying to snag matching funds from the city's Campaign Finance Board, is still under a cloud. Understandably.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner argues that he's the only candidate with bold ideas. But his reckless behavior and fact-challenged memory disqualify him. You can text on it.
Bill Thompson is the candidate who stands out in the Democratic primary field. He's the wise pick.