De Blasio backers call on Lhota to take down a ‘dog whistle’ ad

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An image from Joe Lhota's television ad. ()
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Bill de Blasio and several of his supporters called on Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota to remove a new 30-second television ad that uses footage from the infamous Crown Heights riots to suggest de Blasio would return the city to its high-crime past.

"It is desperate, it is divisive, it is inappropriate," de Blasio, the Democratic candidate, said during a rally for higher wages for fast-food workers this morning in Lower Manhattan. "The images are so far over the top, it is unbelievable that anybody responsible would ever authorize such a thing. And it has no place in our discourse in this city. I think people of New York City are going to be angry and disgusted by this ad.

"Shortly after his remarks, City Councilwoman Letitia James, the Democratic nominee to succeed de Blasio as public advocate, called on Lhota to take down the commercial.

"There is no place in our diverse city for dog whistle politics," James said. "Mr. Lhota should immediately pull this ad off our airwaves because our city deserves a dignified campaign that brings New Yorkers together, instead of tearing them apart."

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Ken Thompson, the Democratic nominee for Brooklyn district attorney, echoed her demand and said the ad is "fanning the flames of racial divisiveness to score cheap political points." (Thompson's campaign also used the ad as a challenge to its own opponent, incumbent district attorney Charles Hynes, who is contesting the general election on the Republican and Conservative lines.)

The commercial alleges that de Blasio would be soft on crime, and shows images from the recent biker-gang beating on the West Side Highway, along with shots of buildings and subway cars strewn with graffiti.

In another jarring flash, the ad shows an overturned police vehicle on Eastern Parkway during the 1991 Crown Heights riots, without specifically citing the riot. De Blasio was working for former Mayor David Dinkins at the time of the riots, one of the most racially divisive events in the city's recent history.

Lhota's campaign faces a challenge in trying to unnerve New Yorkers about de Blasio's plans for policing the city while sidestepping the racial politics that came to dominate the mayoralty Rudy Giuliani, under whom Lhota served as deputy mayor.

"It's pretty obvious that Lhota is trying to raise the specter of racial politics, even if he won't say it directly," said Democratic consultant Doug Forand of Red Horse Strategies. "When you show images of the Crown Heights riots and other street violence, then close on a picture of a fearful-looking white person in a graffiti-covered subway car, you're sending a message.

"Lhota is trying to run the same divisive campaign that his former boss Rudy Giuliani did, but we're a different city in a different time now and it's not going to be successful," added Forand, who said he is not working for de Blasio.

Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud did not answer questions from Capital about how much the ad cost and who created it.

"Bill de Blasio and his supporters are lashing out because they know New Yorkers don't agree with his reckless and dangerous positions on crime," Proud said. "The photos in the ad are a reflection of what the city was like when we had ineffective crime policies and a demoralized police force. They should redirect their outrage where it belongs: with violent criminals who beat an innocent man in front of his family."

The Lhota campaign released the ad this morning, after de Blasio dominated his first debate with Lhota, who trails the Democratic nominee by more than 40 points.