By Jonathan Lemire
Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio on Thursday criticized his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, for campaigning in a Borough Park synagogue that would not allow women to enter.
Lhota was on a walking tour of the Borough Park neighborhood on Wednesday when he entered the ultra-Orthodox Shomer Shabbos synagogue, followed by an entourage of staffers and media members.
Within moments, a synagogue official asked three women — a reporter, a Lhota campaign aide and a member of the candidate's security team — to leave but said the men could stay.
The women stepped outside while Lhota remained inside. He emerged from the synagogue a minute later and defended it.
"Throughout the Orthodox world, the Orthodox Jewish world as well as the Orthodox Muslim world, there are certain places that women are not involved in," he told reporters. "I will not as mayor violate their First Amendment constitutional rights for their religious practices."
De Blasio, who has a commanding lead in the polls, said Thursday that he believes campaign stops must be held "in a space open to all."
"I find it perplexing that he would have organized an event in a situation women wouldn't have access to," de Blasio said outside a Manhattan rally.
The New York Police Department declined to comment about its officer being barred from the synagogue.
The controversy erupted as the campaign seemingly enters a new, more contentious phase with less than three weeks until the Nov. 5 election.
The two men frequently sparred Tuesday night during their first debate, and the next day, de Blasio accused Lhota of releasing a "divisive" campaign commercial.
The ad is centered on a dramatic video showing a Manhattan biker gang attack that left several people, including a young father, injured. It then segues into harrowing black-and-white images from the 1970s and '80s, including footage of an overturned police car, a man holding a gun and corpses sprawled on the ground.
The 30-second spot, which is airing on the city's broadcast networks, warns that de Blasio has a "recklessly dangerous agenda on crime" because the public advocate suggested that he would meet with biker groups. Several Democrats have called for Lhota to pull the ad; his campaign has refused.