By Larry Gordon
Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate for Mayor of New York City, is not doing well in the opinion polls. His Democratic opponent, Bill de Blasio, is scoring much higher in those polls, though anything can still occur. The latest polls this week show de Blasio ahead by almost 50 points.
Lhota is an impressive and experienced man who would make a great mayor without transforming the city back to its difficult days, which were assumed to be unavoidable before Lhota’s mentor, Rudy Giuliani, was elected two decades ago.
There are vital issues in this race that can and probably will dramatically alter the character of New York City. Lhota and de Blasio are fundamentally different people with variant political philosophies and vastly different approaches to governing. New York needs Joe Lhota but it does not look like we are going to get him.
I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Mr. Lhota last week at a kosher restaurant near my office, a meeting that was arranged by two of his Jewish community advisers, Michael Fragin and Aryeh Lightstone. I knew that Lhota was the man for the job even before I met him but I was also aware that it was going to be a steep uphill climb.
Lhota is campaigning and running hard, dealing with the realities of the political landscape as it is currently in New York City. After 12 years of the pragmatism of Michael Bloomberg, no one I know believed that the city was ready for such a remake with the urban version of President Obama. There is no question that de Blasio will moderate some of his outlandish left wing, socialistic views once in office. That is simply a reality of governing once a politician is elected. But one thing looks fairly certain–he’s never going to be Joe Lhota.
Joe Lhota was raised as a Roman Catholic though, he says, that over the past few years in discussing his ancestry he discovered that his mother’s mother was a Jewish woman whose last name was Steinberg. The Republican candidate says that he understands that according to some that would render him technically a Jew and he accepts that line of thinking graciously. Still he has been a lifelong Catholic and his wife is studying to be an Episcopalian priest. His grandmother, Ms. Steinberg, married a Catholic and they raised their children in that religion. The rest is history.
Our conversation then veered in the direction of crime in New York and how the Stop-and-frisk policy accelerated and perfected during the Giuliani administration and continued by police commissioner Ray Kelly through the Bloomberg years is almost exclusively responsible for bringing the crime rate down in New York to the lowest levels in the history of the city. Frankly with all the fuss and legal wrangling about stop-and-frisk, people in the five boroughs are simply concerned that crime is going to skyrocket. But that does not seem to faze the Democrats despite the deeply rooted in law policy that has worked so well.
And Joe Lhota explained what is really going on. The prime objective here is for de Blasio to garner votes from minority populations and neighborhoods from which a disproportionate amount of the crime emanates. The issue with stop-and-frisk is that according to statistics, 89% of the stops by police are made on minorities. That is mostly the blacks and Latino population in the city. Lhota explains that the decision by Judge Shira Scheindlin earlier this year redefining the details of stop-and-frisk and installing a federal monitor to analyze the crime-fighting tactic is not about crime but about getting votes in those areas, and that’s shameful.
Lhota explains that the so-called minority population in the city is 48% of the population. And the feeling by the court is that if this is the case, then police stops of minorities should not exceed 48%. But that is absurd when you consider that not only is over 90% of the crime committed by minorities in New York, but most of those crimes are perpetrated against other minorities.
Stop-and-frisk was sanctioned by a 1968 Supreme Court 8—1 decision that allows police officers to stop people if they observe “legitimate suspicious activity.” And Mr. Lhota points out that the way in way in which his opponent is presenting the situation is a distortion of the reality.
But nothing today is spared being picked apart by the media and the courts. All of a sudden we have a judicial challenge to the concept of what constitutes “legitimate” and what it is that “suspicious” activity is composed of.
A study of the hundreds of thousands of stops in the city over the last few years showed that over 90% were in accordance with the Supreme Court decision, 5% of the reports were not readable because of police officers’ handwriting, and the remaining 5% were considered racial profiling.
To the liberal judiciary in New York and to politicians like Bill de Blasio, it is worth turning the system on its head and watching crime skyrocket in order to address those stops that are considered to be cases of possible profiling. The question New Yorkers have to ask themselves is whether they would mind being stopped even though they are innocent of any criminal wrongdoing in order to assure safety in New York.
Another area of division between the candidates is on the matter of education. Lhota is a proponent and supporter of the growth of charter schools, while de Blasio is not. Lhota wants to see parents having more of a say and input into their children’s education, considering that it is tax money that is educating the children.
As far as Joe Lhota sees the matter, the public schools are not doing their jobs. “I’m on the board of City University,” the Republican candidate says, “and last year 81% of those seeking to enter the university system were deemed not capable of doing college-level work.” He said the City University system has earmarked tens of millions of dollars for teaching entering college freshmen better reading and writing skills.
So what exactly is going on here? Why is Bill de Blasio predicted to knock the socks off an eminently more qualified Joe Lhota? The Republican candidate calls it “Bloomberg fatigue,” that is 12 years of Mayor Bloomberg’s independent and level way of governing. I don’t know if it’s city residents or the media, but there is a sense that something or someone is champing at the bit after 12 years of the untouchable Bloomberg to move a mayor into position that the press and the critics can sink our teeth into.
And that is, with all his imperfections, Bill de Blasio. But this is what the people want, it seems, not only in New York but around the country. We want the rollout and debut of an Obamacare website and program that fails to enroll people after three years of preparation. We want a president who dedicates himself to settling political scores instead of governing. And we want a mayor in New York whom we can climb all over and criticize in the press from not just day one but minute one. That’s what New Yorkers want and it looks like that is what they are going to get. Good luck. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.