Joe Lhota says the Sandinista thing is ‘sideline’

Lhota at Terrace on the Park. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Joe Lhota believes the Sandinistas are “a murdering, racist, anti-Semitic organization” and that Bill de Blasio’s support for them is deeply problematic, but he’d really like to talk about something else.

“No, no, no,” said Lhota today, when I asked him if he sees this concerted bid to label Democratic mayoral nominee a “Marxist” as his path to victory. “This is sideline. ... What I really would love reporters to do is ask me substantive questions.”

“I'd like you to talk to me about what I will do to create jobs,” he said. “What my views on who might the next police commissioner be, my views on how we would deal with proactive policing and community relations. That's what the people of New York want to hear. That's how I'm going to win, because my views are radically different than Bill's views.”

So who does he want to be police commissioner?

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Ray Kelly.

“And if Ray Kelly doesn't want to stay, there are a list of people who I think are more than capable of becoming the P.C. here in New York,” he said.

Who?

“It's not fair to talk about.”

Lhota has spent much of the past few days highlighting de Blasio’s activism on behalf of the Sandinistas back when the Democratic nominee was in his 20s, and the conflict there was front-and-center in the debate about U.S. involvement in Central and South America.

Now, it’s 2013, as de Blasio recently noted.

“It's not about years, you know, if past is prologue, and I believe it is,” countered Lhota today, speaking to reporters at a Queens Courier event at Terrace on the Park, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Joe Lhota has a big, likeable personality, but that has yet to come through on the campaign trail, and he trails de Blasio by more than 40 points in the public polls, with less than six weeks until the general election.

"Who kidnapped Joseph Lhota, the levelheaded deputy mayor who could talk of innovation, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief who could talk to unions without his upper lip curling into a snarl?" asked Michael Powell today in the New York Times.

This morning in Queens, I asked Lhota if perhaps his campaign was perhaps imposing too much discipline on him.

“It's not my campaign,” he said. “It's me. It's who I am.”

And though he doth protest, he wants to talk about Nicaragua too.

On Monday, the New York Times published an in-depth account of de Blasio’s already widely known advocacy on behalf of the Sandinistas in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which was followed by revelations about de Blasio’s honeymoon (in Cuba) and his welcoming of Robert Mugabe to City Hall back in 2002 (which he later apologized for).

“Basically, what Bill believes is social justice, if it's what the Sandinistas did, it's anything but social justice,” said Lhota. “If it's what he sees in Cuba, you know Cuba? Great. No income inequality. Everybody's poor.”

So did Lhota support the Contras, who were themselves guilty of severe human rights violations?

“At the time, I supported anybody but the Sandinistas because they were a murdering regime,” he said.

I pointed out that the Contras were also guilty of such crimes.

“At the time, I wasn't supporting anyone,” said Lhota. “I was always opposed to any organization that espoused Marxist theories.”

Lhota also addressed questions about his former rival for the Republican nomination, John Catsimatidis, who has yet to endorse Lhota because he’s not sure Lhota likes him.

"I do like him. What's not to like about John Catsimatidis?" said Lhota, adding, "I don't understand why he makes such disparaging remarks about me."

Lhota also distanced himself from a new pro-Lhota Super PAC, backed by an Alabaman Republican named Shaun McCutcheon and D.C. lawyer Craig Engle, who are suing to overturn New York State's $150,000 limit on donations to political action committees.

“I've always thought the state laws are not in compliance with the United States Constitution," said Lhota, who claims not to known the PAC's founders.

Following the breakfast, Lhota was headed to a “private meeting” in lower Manhattan.

I asked him if I could ride along.

He said no.

“You've known me for a long time,” said Lhota. “If I get in a backseat of a car with you again, you know how much more trouble I’ll get into?”

For the record, he was referring to this.