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Republican New York mayoral candidate needs to woo moderates

Republican Mayoral candidate Joe Lhota speaks after winning the Republican nomination for New York City mayor in New York, September 10, 201
Republican Mayoral candidate Joe Lhota speaks after winning the Republican nomination for New York City mayor in New York, September 10, 201

By Jonathan Allen and Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joe Lhota, the newly elected Republican candidate for New York City mayor, says he wants to highlight stark differences with his likely liberal rival to win over moderates in the heavily Democratic-leaning electorate.

But first, 58-year-old Lhota, a police officer's son who went on to graduate from Harvard business school, serve as deputy to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and head the city's mass transit agency, must introduce himself to more New Yorkers.

During the intrigue-filled Democratic Party primary, the Republicans were largely ignored. One factor possibly in Lhota's favor is that even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by six to one in the most populous city in the United States, voters have not elected a Democratic mayor in 20 years.

Lhota, who defeated grocery chain billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis in the Republican primary, is wasting little time in working to raise his profile following Tuesday's voting. On Thursday, he planned five interviews and public events, according to his schedule.

"I'm going to need as many cross-over votes as possible," he told the Brian Lehrer public radio show on Thursday. "My greatest strength is that I will talk to everybody."

For much of the summer, the race focused on the foibles of Democratic candidates such as former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose comeback was derailed after lewd pictures that he sent of himself to women online were made public.

"There's no question that the circus of the Democratic primary dominated the news coverage and all the attention for a while," said Jessica Proud, Lhota's press secretary.

The closely-fought Democratic primary does not yet have an official winner, but unabashed liberal Bill de Blasio, the city's Public Advocate, is likely to emerge as the candidate in the November 5 general election to succeed three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg in running the city of 8.3 million people.

The Board of Elections is still counting votes to see whether a runoff is necessary between the 6-foot-5 inch (1.96 meter) tall de Blasio and former city comptroller Bill Thompson.

Bob Turner, a Republican congressman who is backing Lhota, said: "You're going to see a practiced, steady hand, sincere execution, and I think he'll have enough time to project himself to people, to see him how he is.

"Joe doesn't have a political range - he is what he is."

POLICE POLICIES

While Lhota has drawn some distance between himself and Bloomberg, suggesting for example that the mayor has not done enough to protect the city against a devastating storm since superstorm Sandy slammed the northeast last fall, many of his public statements dovetail with those of the mayor.

Lhota has said he wants to keep Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in that post, that he would not scale back the department's surveillance efforts and he has defended the controversial police tactic of stop-and-frisk, which has led to allegations of racial profiling of young black and Latino men.

De Blasio, 52, has taken the opposite position on each of those issues, and Lhota said on Thursday that voters will see de Blasio's emphasis on economic inequality as a strategy designed to "separate the classes."

Lhota has signaled he will remind voters of his association with former mayor Giuliani, who won plaudits for reducing New York's notoriously high crime rate. Bloomberg benefited from Giuliani's endorsement following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Across New York's Republican enclave of Howard Beach, a middle-class neighborhood of low-rise homes on the marshy edges of Jamaica Bay in Queens, Lhota won only lukewarm endorsements from Republican voters.

"The little bit I know about him I think he'd be alright," Peter Lopacki, a 58-year-old registered Republican said between answering calls as a car service dispatcher.

While voters there expressed strong support for Kelly and for the use of stop-and-frisk, many did not know Lhota shared those views.

Supporters at his victory party conceded that Lhota, who has never run for public office before, lacked the more practiced political stagecraft of his Democratic rivals but thought voters would be willing to overlook this.

John McCown, who has known Lhota since they both attended Harvard Business School in the class of 1980, agreed his friend was not the flashiest candidate.

"I think competence is sometimes just very quiet," he said.

(Editing by Grant McCool)

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