By Jonathan Lemire
Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota warned a group of prominent New York City business leaders Tuesday that crime could surge if his Democratic opponent Bill de Blasio is elected mayor.
Though the city's overall crime rates have plunged dramatically during outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 12 years in office, Lhota suggested a recent spike in high-profile crimes could foreshadow what would happen if de Blasio is elected.
He denounced the shooting death of a 1-year-old Brooklyn boy last month, a stabbing spree in a Manhattan park, and the violence that erupted last week during a confrontation between a SUV driver and a group of motorcyclists.
Video shows about two dozen riders slowing down and swarming the SUV after it bumped a biker. As some approached the vehicle, it sped away, knocking over and injuring a biker. The bikers later caught up to the SUV and assaulted the driver. Several of the motorcyclists have been arrested.
"An entire nation, if not the entire world," Lhota, a former deputy mayor to Rudolph Giuliani, told the Association for a Better New York, "was stunned as a man who was just trying to celebrate his wedding anniversary was brutally beaten by a biker gang — a wilding, by bikers — in front of his family, on the West Side Highway."
Lhota's use of the highly charged word "wilding" evoked an infamous 1989 case in which a jogger was raped in Central Park. Five teenagers were convicted in the assault, which was dubbed a wilding in the media. The convictions were overturned, but the sense of lawlessness that surrounded the city during the time of the rape helped propel Giuliani's election four years later.
Lhota sharply condemned de Blasio's plans to reform stop-and-frisk, a tactic that allows police to stop people deemed suspicious, and his criticisms of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The pro-business Association for a Better New York is generally friendly territory for Republicans, and Lhota was warmly cheered at the speech's end. However, the turnout was half the size what heard de Blasio last week.
De Blasio, who was given a standing ovation was coldly received by the group a year ago for proposing a tax cut on the wealthy to fund his universal pre-kindergarten program. The change in reception could perhaps be attributed to de Blasio's standing in the polls, which have him up nearly 50 points on Lhota ahead of the Nov. 5 general election.
Unlike de Blasio, who barely mentioned Lhota in his speech, the Republican repeatedly assailed his rival's positions on charter schools, tax increases, and the liberal Democrat's claim last week that he was a "progressive activist fiscal conservative."
"My name is Joe Lhota, and I am a fiscal conservative," is how the former head of the city's transit agency opened his speech. Lhota even mocked the Massachusetts-raised de Blasio's allegiance to the Boston Red Sox, saying that he himself has "always supported the New York Yankees."