NEW YORK - Republicans will be going all out to defeat Bill de Blasio in the general election for mayor of New York City on November 5. Their candidate, Joe Lhota, thinks he can defeat de Blasio in "Joe McCarthy-style" by calling him a "Marxist". But this redbaiting didn't pay off; de Blasio went up in the polls and Lhota went down. Lhota knows that after 12 years of Bloomberg's pro Wall Street policies the majority of New York's democratic electorate has shifted to the left.
While his real estate, insurance and financial speculating millionaire friends made out like bandits, public schools fell deeper into crisis, rents doubled and tripled, as did homelessness and hunger.
While Bloomberg's billionaire capitalist friends stuffed their pockets, poverty grew dramatically. Bloomberg's answer to the economic hardship his policies caused, was no contracts, plus layoffs for pubic employees. His answer was jails, not jobs; it was "stop and frisk" racial profiling for communities of color. The basic economic problems got worse.
Lhota has a big problem: he wants to continue those same pro Wall Street policies but to get votes he must paint himself as a liberal.
It appears that tactic is not going to fly either. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows de Blasio with 79 percent of the Latino vote; black voters with 90 percent favoring de Blasio and among white voters, Lhota is behind de Blasio by double digits.
Lhota is desperately reaching out to public figures like the Rev. Al Sharpton and other black and brown leaders; trying to make some inroads into the two powerful voting blocks. In the meantime he is making the not-so-subtle Republican appeals to whites like his former boss Giuliani did. The Lhota campaign is putting together a multi million dollar red baiting blitz on the media to paint himself as the brilliant administrator and de Blasio as an inexperienced even a naive, misguided "Marxist." Even de Blasio's modest proposal to increase taxes on Wall Street to pay for pre-kindergarten for all children is treated almost like it's treason.
But New Yorkers are asking: what about the children? What about the rents and the public schools? What about the massive gap between the rich and working class? What about police brutality? The packing of city jails with youth of color over repressive marijuana laws?
Make no mistake, in spite of his criticism of the tea party in Congress Lhota's solutions to these huge problems are Republican and right wing. The priority of making the rich richer is not the solution, it is the basic problem. All Lhota's talk about his modest background is just talk, his policies when he worked under Mayor Giuliani as the head of the MTA speak volumes about the real Joe Lhota.
Responding to a question during a New York Times interview, Tamra Lhota, the wife of the mayoral hopeful, said, "I think the City desperately needs Joe to be its leader for the next eight years." She said her husband would be the city's best hope of preserving its quality of life. Working families are no doubt asking "quality of life for whom?" She mentions clean parks and safe streets, when the youth unemployment rate in some communities is over 50 percent - how meaningful is that goal? And considering Lhota's connection with law and order Giuliani - shouldn't one assume that safe and clean parks means open season on the jobless and homeless?
The truth is that Lhota comes out of Wall Street; he worked for Paine Webber and ran the housing group for the firm. Both he and his wife Tamra - a successful fundraiser for the GOP - worked for Giuliani on his first run against David Dinkins. Giuliani lost that election; and lest we forgot, in 1993, Giuliani the candidate spoke before and cheered on, a racially charged rally of 10,000 police officers in City Hall Park that had all the earmarks of racism. Giuliani appeared in ads supporting Lhota during the Republican primary but it seems is playing no role in his campaign now.
When asked in an interview while he was First Deputy Mayor under Giuliani about the role of the mayor, Mr. Lhota replied, "New York is like a company, and a mayor is its CEO. The CEO's job is to ensure the education, employment and well being of his share-holders, the residents of New York." If you look at it that way, the big problem here is that working families don't have enough "shares" to override the developers, Wall Street and insurance companies. And health care, housing and education should not and cannot be run like a company.
It's revealing to look at some of Lhota's contributors: James Dolan, President and CEO of anti-union Cablevision (where Lhota was executive vice president for several years); non-union Home Depot founder Ken Langone; former Citigroup and Time Warner CEO Richard Parson, and Emma Bloomberg, the current mayor's daughter.
After Hurricane Sandy hit, much was said of Lhota's leadership by the corporate press. However, TWU Local 100 spokesperson Jim Gannon said, "The MTA has extensive systems in place to handle these situations. If anyone is to be credited, it is Lhota's top management teams who have years of experience and have been involved in developing these systems for many years as well as the workers on the ground who spent months on the cleanup".
Trying to capitalize on the information that has been written about de Blasio's background, e.g., his working with the Sandinista peace and justice movement seems to have backfired. De Blasio is ahead in most polls by 50 percent or more. The New York Post painted him as a guerrilla fighter the likes of Che Guevara, but when the polls shot that down the Post switched to having him courting the 1 percent.
Why is de Blasio so far ahead in the polls? Because he appealed to the real pain, the real hopes and dreams for a more just NY and the people responded.
Not all supporters agree fully with de Blasio, but he has taken up the mantle of the candidate of the 99 percent and he is for taking the city in a more progressive direction. This will benefit the working class majority of the city. It will not be an easy task. He will need the full weight of New York City's labor and people's movements behind him if he is to succeed.
Despite these favorable numbers, progressives cannot sit back on this very, very important race. Lhota and his big financial backers will use any and every possible means to undermine the candidate of the 99 percent, because that's really what this race is about.
The Republicans probably can't win, but if they could make the vote close they could force de Blasio to change his policies. If they could split his coalition, they would be in a stronger position to defeat him in the post election work. This struggle will begin again on the day after Election Day.
We in New York City are a microcosm of what is happening around the country. Witness the government shut down by the ultra right in DC. When the New York Times asked New Yorkers what they want of the next mayor, they replied "A mayor who will be sensitive, and responsive to ordinary New Yorkers". In short a mayor with a heart.
Photo: Bill de Blasio joined doctors, nurses, health care workers and activists at a major rally to protest the closure of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center, July 24. Wikimedia Commons.