Lhota defends his transportation program, and his ties to David Koch

Lhota at Yeshiva University. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota insisted today that his transportation commissioner wouldn't focus on filling potholes, recent rhetoric notwithstanding.

"You know, it's interesting, because I keep reading these columns that are in Capital New York about this issue," he said today, after giving a talk about leadership at Yeshiva University. "And I'm very surprised, because they really talk about things that when I'm out on Staten Island, and Staten Island doesn't have a significant amount of mass transit, and when I'm there, the reporter from Capital New York never talks about the fact that I want the West Shore rail to be built, doesn't talk about the fact that I think we need to have the bus rapid transit on the North Shore, but wants to just write about the fact that one of the things that I always say and always get a round of applause from the people on Staten Island is that there are way too many potholes out there."

Lhota has, in fact, talked about his support for a West Shore rail and the expansion of bus rapid transit in Staten Island. 

But he has also disappointed some transit advocates with the cautious distance he's kept from some of the less Staten Island-centric transportation issues facing New York City.

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"Look, D.O.T. has got to get their act together and make sure that our streets are in a state of good repair," said Lhota, who ran the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for about a year under Andrew Cuomo, before leaving to run for mayor. "That's important, but that's just one of many, many things that I talk about there. And there seems to be just selective journalistic skills to only talk about potholes and not talk about all of the things that I want to do to expand mass transit in that borough and every other borough."

By way of example, he mentioned "what we need to do up in the Bronx, how we have to have at least three or four new stops on Metro-North in the eastern part of the Bronx, in and around Coop City and various other ways to allow that part of the city to be connected to the rest of the city," something that the M.T.A. is already pursuing.

"I've talked about expanding the systems in different parts of Queens and extending a little bit from the original plan, not the original plan, but the updated plan that hasn't been really updated since 1939 about expanding the system," he continued. "I'd be more than happy to talk to you about transportation."

(He directed me to contact his press secretary.)

Separately, he defended himself from allegations that he sympathizes with the Tea Party. It's a storyline that de Blasio has been pushing hard. Today, his campaign sent out two emails on the topic, with a link to a Staten Island Advance story in which Lhota tells a Staten Island Tea Party audience that, "My philosophical issues are very close to yours in many, many ways," and a link to a new de Blasio campaign Tumblr entitled, "Goldwater + Tea Party + Giuliani = Lhota."

"I have received a check from David and Julia Koch from my campaign and as I've read in a newspaper that they are also part of an [independent expenditure], which I don't know about," he said. "It's not the brothers. It's one. It's David. And David gave $81,000 to Andrew Cuomo and you didn't ask him the same question. What you need to look at is who David Koch is. David Koch has spent an enormous amount of his own money philanthropically here in the City of New York. There are rooms in buildings named after him in this city, including over at Lincoln Center. He, like I, believes in a woman's right to choose. He believes, as I do, in marriage equality. David Koch's beliefs on social issues are no different than mine or my opponent's when it comes to women's choice and women's issues and other issues like that. Tying me together with the Tea Party is just not gonna work. And if I'm tied to the Tea Party, so's Andrew Cuomo. Ask him about the $81,000 he received fromn David and Julia Koch. It's as simple as that."