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Time for a focused, productive mayoral campaign

Jonathan P Hicks | 9/19/2013, 5:14 p.m.

Finally, the political dust has settled and New York City can at last focus on the mayoral race that will be waged between Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate, and Joseph Lhota, the Republican contender.

It was a long time coming. Even after de Blasio’s spectacular come-from-behind, first-place showing in the primary, there was the nagging question of whether there would be a run-off between him and Bill Thompson, the second-place candidate in the primary.

Ultimately, Thompson came to realize what most New Yorkers who spent more than five minutes reviewing the election results already knew: Momentum and statistics were not on his side. After all, if you’re the Black candidate and your rival outpaces you in votes in places like central Harlem and the northeast Bronx, a runoff victory is probably not in the cards.

With the matter of a mayoral runoff finally out of the way, it is now time for a vigorous debate between the two candidates on the important issues of the day. Lhota, who served as a deputy in the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has a formidable job on his hands. He has the burdensome task of demonstrating to New Yorkers—particularly African-American and Latino voters—that there is indeed some distance between him and his benefactor in terms of his disposition to communities of color.

While Giuliani may be best known to the nation as “America’s Mayor,” as he was dubbed by Time magazine after the September 11 attacks, he is far better known to Black and Brown New Yorkers as the non-inclusive mayor with harsh policies and behavior when it came to the marginalized residents of the city. He was known for his knee-jerk defense of the police, no matter how outrageous their conduct became.

To that end, and to his credit, Lhota has taken some important steps. For example, he traveled to the National Action Network’s offices to meet with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a meeting that was utterly out of the realm of a Giuliani reality. (In fact, the Republican mayor took great pride in not meeting with Sharpton or the city’s non-white borough presidents.) Still, African-American and Latino voters are more compelled by policies than photo opportunities, and Lhota has yet a ways to go to make his case.

On the other hand, de Blasio has the task of explaining how he would convert his very progressive—and compelling—campaign rhetoric into policy and mayoral action. His opposition to stop-and-frisk has been well documented, with great political benefit. But what would he look for in a police commissioner? How, indeed, would affordable housing be created in a city dominated by the interests of real estate developers?

In the last week, The New York Times carried a riveting piece about Alpha Manzueta, a New Yorker who works two jobs and still lives in a homeless shelter because she cannot afford a place of her own in America’s largest city. In even the least fashionable sections of the New York, rents are staggeringly high and becoming higher every day. New Yorkers like Manzueta and hundreds of thousands of others who are struggling to make it should be an earnest focus of this mayoral campaign.

This is a city where the important issues facing the most neglected residents always take a backseat to the titillating features of politics. We know far more about Anthony Weiner’s tweets than we do about de Blasio or Lhota’s views on affordable housing and job creation. This is the time to change that focus.

We need to use the next six weeks to delve fiercely into the issues of significance to New Yorkers and not be distracted by the sideshows. If the voters—and media—of New York can manage that, this will indeed be a meaningful campaign that will see the city emerge with the best candidate prevailing.