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Joe Lhota’s Messaging Problem

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WNYC

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota is running on his skills as a manager. But he says being a candidate is requiring a lot of delegating. And, for now, the results are a candidate and a campaign message that are out of synch.

The newest television ad from Joe Lhota’s campaign makes an unflinching and unequivocal argument: Bill de Blasio is dangerous for New York. The reason? He’s unexperienced.

“Bill de Blasio has never managed a thing,” said Jake Menges, a senior advisor to Lhota’s campaign. “This guy is no way in heck ready to run the city of new york. It is a horrifying thought that this man could be in charge of the police department. Joe Lhota has done it. Joe lhota has proven that he’s done it.”

Lhota himself says managing, micromanaging even, is part of his personality. But not during this campaign.

“I’ve had to back off from that in this race,” he said in an interview last week between campaign stops. He’s says he's just too busy as a candidate to do the kind of close operations monitoring that he was known for at City Hall and the MTA. “This is inconsistent with things I’ve managed before.”

Campaigning has taught him he has to delegate, Lhota said, and to let the professionals handle his messaging.

“It needs to be done consistently, and not having someone like me interfering with the process. And I realize how bad that is,” he said. “I didn’t realize that going in. I realize that now.”

So, the candidate who called Port Authority officers "mall cops" at a forum during the primary now studies talking points on his iPad while riding with a reporter.

“I keep forgetting the Ray Kelly one,” Lhota muttered to himself while on his way to NY1. “I keep forgetting the majority of people want to keep Ray Kelly.”

That’s a point the Lhota campaign is trying to project now. That on issues like charter schools and keeping Ray Kelly, a majority New York voters are aligned with him.

But that message keeps getting muddled by other contradictions.

Like at a private fundraiser in the West Village. He was introduced by John Odermatt, a former NYPD officer who headed the city’s Office of Emergency Management during Bloomberg’s first term.

“I wanted to tell everybody what you're not going to get here tonight,” Odermatt began. “One is you’re not going to get a tale of two cities, because that’s bullshit. The other is, you’re not going to get someone who can’t remember his real name.”

That line drew laughs from the crowd of a few dozen supporters. But when Lhota spoke after him, he thanked his old friend – and walked back his message.

“You are going to hear a little about a tale of two cities today. Here’s why. We do have income inequality in New York. And the phraseology of a tale of two cities is just a short way to bring it to our attention,” Lhota said.

In this week’s debate, though, Lhota said something else.

“Where I disagree with my opponent is he talks about a tale of two cities, where you basically divide the city into class warfare,” Lhota said.

Joe Lhota has two and a half more weeks to bridge that divide. The entire city goes to the polls on November 5.

To hear the full story, click the audio player.

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