Joe Lhota took his mayoral campaign to southwest Brooklyn today, and the first-time candidate insisted he knows what he’s doing.
“There’s an urban myth about my retail campaigning,” Mr. Lhota, a Republican, told Politicker. “I’ve campaigned not as the candidate, but out front with Rudy Giuliani in ’89 and ’93. I ran with a campaign manager for a whole bunch of people who ran for student body president in college. I understand what you need to do.”
Responding to critics who have suggested a high-profile citywide race is a challenge for the political novice, he added, “I don’t think the transition has been that difficult.”
The sleepy campaign stop at a Bay Ridge greenmarket, one of three on a scorching Saturday, brought Mr. Lhota to one of the rare parts of the city where Republican voters still show up at the polls in relatively high numbers.
Compared to the sprawling food markets in other parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the Bay Ridge greenmarket is a modest affair: a roped-off patch of a Walgreens parking lot. But Mr. Lhota, stumping with GOP State Senator Marty Golden and several others Republicans, met a few like-minded voters in his quest to defeat billionaire John Catsimatidis in the GOP primary.
“Joe Lhota is the only adult in the room,” Mr. Golden, clad in a t-shirt and shorts, said. “We have a city, eight-and-a-half million people, and this is the best the Democratic Party can field?”
Mr. Golden said he believed Mr. Lhota would benefit from the circus atmosphere surrounding the Democrats in the wake of the campaigns of scandal-scarred Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, who are vying to become mayor and comptroller respectively.
“It’s eroded the confidence in the electoral process. And I think it’s been a laughingstock not just here in the city but across the country. The talk shows … it’s become a joke,” he argued.
For his part, Mr. Lhota, whose temperament on the campaign trail has remained even-keeled despite his more colorful history, did not take any shots at the Democrats or Mr. Catsimatidis. Instead, he waded through the market, introducing himself to the people drifting in and sampling the organic wares of the various vendors. While few recognized him, several voters were thrilled to have a Republican in their midst.
“You know, the city has changed so much, you know, you can’t go back. I admire you for taking responsibility,” a young mortgage banker told Mr. Lhota, referring to New York City’s higher crime era during the 1970′s and 1980′s.
Mr. Lhota was polite but the conversation didn’t last long, even with an admirer. Later, turning to Politicker, Mr. Lhota was very diplomatic.
“Sometimes you hear that,” he said. “You know it’s an issue, but it’s a delicate issue. Many people bring it up. It’s not necessarily the candidates bringing it up, it’s the general understanding of the public of what it was like 20, 25 years ago.”
The button-downed Mr. Lhota nevertheless did show flashes of the wry wit that admirers say has been missing from the campaign so far. He schmoozed with a man on roller blades, chatting about organic drinks. He marveled at a specialty wine called “The Birth of Pain,” quipping, “That’s the story of the budget.” And he mused with a voter about the number of children that may have been conceived during Hurricane Sandy.
“How old’s your baby?” Mr. Lhota asked a tan, Bay Ridge resident in a tank top.
“He’s 19 months,” the man replied.”And I’ve got another little one on the way.”
“Alright, not a Sandy baby?” Mr. Lhota questioned, smiling. “There’s a whole rash of folks right now, we’re right at that point … It’s almost eight and a half months ago … All of a sudden, all the hospitals in New York are gearing up for this two or three week period, which is fascinating.”
The man laughed.
Eventually, Mr. Lhota’s campaign was told they couldn’t hand out his glossy pamphlets within the greenmarket. They moved beyond the dividing line and Mr. Lhota remained within, shaking hands. An elderly woman complained about his robocalls and then urged him to make sure people knew he was once Mr. Giuliani’s deputy mayor.
As a man in a New York Rangers shirt and sunglasses strode into the lot, Mr. Golden, a bubblier presence than Mr. Lhota, swooped in.
“Come meet Joe Lhota!” he urged.
The man, grinning uncomfortably, kept walking.
“Go Rangers!” Mr. Lhota shouted at the man’s back.