Lhota moves away from Giuliani, toward Bloomberg

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Lhota on NY1. (via NY1.)
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Joe Lhota, the former M.T.A. chairman and a top aide to former mayor Rudy Giuliani, used a series of interviews yesterday (including one with Capital) to create some distance between himself and his former boss.

"Joe Lhota is not Rudy Giuliani," said Lhota, during an interview with Errol Louis on NY1's "Road to City Hall."

Lhota is a self-described libertarian and Republican who voted for Mitt Romney and worked for Giuliani as a deputy mayor and budget director.

His old boss has been reaching out to fund-raisers and speaking to the press on his behalf, but Lhota's affiliation with him, while perhaps an asset in some precincts of Staten Island and south Brooklyn, won't help him in others.

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Lhota, in other words, will need votes from some portion of the city electorate that doesn't like Rudy Giuliani if he is to win a mayoral election.

"The thing that was important about Joe Lhota when he worked in City Hall is Joe Lhota talked to everybody, and I will do the same thing when I run for mayor," Lhota said, during a separate interview with NY1 reporter Grace Rauh that ran in the same hour. "I will talk to everybody."

If anything, Lhota is setting himself up to be more like Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

According to Lhota, the city right now is in a fragile state, and depending on how this election year pans out, "things can go backwards."

"I think we need to build upon the foundation that Mayor Bloomberg has put together over the last 12 years, and bring the city to the next level," he said.

Like Bloomberg, he also said that he did not support retroactive pay raises for the city's labor unions, which the Independent Budget Office recently warned could add billions to the deficits. For the first time since the 1970s, all of the union's contracts with the city have expired.

Lhota said he supported raises going forward, but that retroactive ones would create "fiscal ruin."

(One of his competitors, former comptroller Bill Thompson, was asked that question yesterday and declined to comment.)

When Lhota was the chairman of the M.T.A., a position he left to run for mayor, he failed to reach a new union contract with the Transport Workers Union, something he attributes to the fact that his negotiating partner, John Samuelsen, was up for re-election.

"So it became an election-year issue," he said.

Despite the many challenges facing any Republican who runs for citywide office in New York City, Lhota said he was confident a Republican would win the mayoralty.

"What's important to understand ... is the level of independence of the New York City voter," he said. "The New York City voter doesn't necessarily vote by party line. Fiorello LaGuardia would not have been elected, nor would John Linsday have been elected, or re-elected. Remember, John Lindsay didn't even have a major-party endorsement at the time. Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg. What New Yorkers do ... is not vote party line, but vote their mind, based on who they think is gonna propel the city to the next level."