“I’m inextricably linked to the Giuliani administration,” said New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota during an hour-long question and answer session at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Lhota understands his current legacy of being tied to people or things that many New Yorkers would call “divisive.” He served under Rudolph Giuliani as a finance commissioner, a budget director and a deputy mayor of operations. Lhota’s also the former chair of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and responsible for some of the recent fare hikes that New Yorkers angrily accepted. But Lhota’s demeanor isn’t that of someone associated with “combative” subjects. His amicable, matter-of-fact disposition and business-like conduct allows him to speak to audiences rather than at them.
While he’s linked to Giuliani and the MTA, Lhota also wanted to let New Yorkers know that he would operate differently from current Mayor Michael Bloomberg as well.
“From a managerial point of view, Mayor Bloomberg actually assumes and tells each of his commissioners that they’re the CEO of their agency,” said Lhota. “And in the process of that, each and every one of their agencies really do not communicate with each other. One of the things I will do as mayor is make sure all of our agencies work together and communicate with each other.”
Lhota then pointed to the recent brouhaha over Citi Bikes as an example. “A program for which I am much in favor, but if you think about where the various bike stands were placed, the lack of communication between the DOT and the emergency services—whether it’s fire department or police department and as well as the ambulances—it’s clear that there should have been more communication going on, “ continued Lhota. “Also [they need to communicate] with the MTA because of various entries into bus stops being blocked.”
Lhota didn’t shy away from any topics and took on any question asked. He discussed how Bloomberg had created a “Manhattan-centric administration” and how aloofness from City Hall has contributed to a lack of civic pride among New York City’s citizens. But the mayoral hopeful did have pride in most of Bloomberg’s education record. He praised the mayor for the increase in English language arts scores, math scores and graduation rates. He also discussed how he would deal with teachers if he became mayor.
“Someone who makes a commitment to teach our children should be supported by the city of New York,” said Lhota. “A teacher should be evaluated so we can make that teacher a better teacher. Training programs and other development programs make teachers great. Most teachers will tell you that the first and second years are rough. Most great teachers were taken under the wing of other great, established teachers who taught them the rules.
Lhota touched on how he’s in favor of teacher evaluations and believes that the United Federations of Teachers’ (UFT) distrust of evaluation is unwarranted. But he said he’s willing to work with them if needed.
“I will work with the UFT,” said Lhota. “We will disagree on specific issues, but there will never be a point in time where they can claim that I’m anti-teacher.”
Lhota also stated that he’s in favor of charter schools, but he would like to transfer some of what they do well to “regular” public schools. He also pointed out the work that needs to be done with New York students who enroll in CUNY’s community colleges. According to Lhota, who serves on CUNY’s board, 81 percent of the university’s community college students aren’t ready for college-level work and have to take remedial courses first.
“It’s a failure on the city’s part,” Lhota said.
Lhota also responded to the question of stop-and-frisk by pointing to the law’s original intent, how it should be practiced and whether or not the New York Police Department was doing it correctly.
“Stop, question and frisk—as defined in the penal code in the 1988 Supreme Court ruling—is a realistic and viable tool to be used by police departments,” said Lhota. “However, it requires that police officers be trained and re-trained and re-trained again on how to use it and how to go about it. They called it stop, question and frisk for a reason. That’s why it’s in the penal code. The stopping is based on whether the officer has a predicate reason and questioning becomes the most important part of that process.
“Education and training is the most important part of what’s supposed to happen. It should start first week of academy,” said Lhota.
But Lhota also wanted to let the audience know that he wasn’t in favor of a federal monitor of the NYPD in reaction to the stop-and-frisk commentary.
“I don’t think there’s a reason for a monitor, and to think that having a person from the Department of Justice talk about a monitor in and of itself is dangerous,” said Lhota. “This is a department that has forgotten what the Fourth Amendment was like, in what it’s allowing the NSA to do. This is a department that has forgotten what the First Amendment is about.
“Those of you here who are starting out as journalists or who are working journalists should be very offended about what they’re doing to journalists in looking at their emails and looking at their families’ emails,” concluded Lhota.