Enter Mr. Lhota

Joseph Lhota’s entrance into this year’s mayoral election is welcome news on a couple of fronts.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, his presence in the campaign immediately raises the level of competence in the candidate pool. As Rudy Giuliani’s deputy mayor and, until the other day, as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Mr. Lhota has shown that he has the skills, vision and ability required of New York’s chief executive. The same cannot be said with such certainty about some of his competitors.

Secondly, Mr. Lhota is a Republican, and that, too, is a good thing, because it means that New York will have another truly competitive general election in November. Once upon a time, the general election for mayor of New York was little more than a formality, because of the GOP’s weakness in the city. The real election took place in the Democratic primary, an unedifying spectacle that produced lots of airy talk about national and global issues, but very little about the nuts and bolts of running a city.

How times have changed. No Democrat has been elected mayor since 1989, an extraordinary development in the city’s history. The party’s monopoly has been broken, and the result has been a more dynamic, more interesting political culture in New York. Both parties have become more innovative, and both have contributed ideas that have led to the city’s rise from the depths of the early 1990s.

It seemed for a while that this string of five straight two-party mayoral elections might come to an end this year. As a bevy of Democrats prepared for the campaign to succeed Michael Bloomberg, Republicans struggled to find a legitimate candidate with the sort of instant name recognition, or the deep pockets, required of modern politics.

Now, however, that problem has been solved. Mr. Lhota may not be as well known as Mr. Giuliani was in 1989, when he lost his first mayoral campaign, and he obviously doesn’t have a Bloomberg-like fortune. But he does have something neither one of them had before they entered City Hall: an intimate knowledge of how the city works, for better and for worse.

Mr. Lhota, in short, can easily hold his own against whoever emerges from the Democratic primary in September. And while the Democrats battle each other to see who can best pander to the party’s entrenched interest groups—many of whom think it is still 1989—Mr. Lhota will be able to build greater name recognition, raise money and remain above the fray while his eventual opponent is bloodied over the summer.

So welcome to the fight, Mr. Lhota. And may the best ideas win.