NEW YORK CITY — It’s been 20 years since New York City elected a Democrat as mayor — and after winning the Republican Party's nomination Tuesday, Joe Lhota is looking to keep that streak alive.
Lhota, a former aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani and onetime head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, bested his opponents — billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis and Doe Fund founder George McDonald — and secured 52.4 percent of the vote, with 94 percent of precincts reporting.
"Tonight represents a mile-marker on our road to victory in November," Lhota said, drawing cheers in the ballroom of the New York Hilton Midtown. "It is time to unify our party, strengthen it and prepare for victory in November."
He attacked his Democratic rivals, who he said would create "rampant civic decay."
"Over the next two months, New Yorkers will see two completely different visions for the future of our city. I'm hearing an awful lot coming from the other side about a tale of two cities and how they want to tear down the progress that has happened over the last 20 years," Lhota said.
"In this campaign that starts tonight, I'm not going to let the other side divide our city," Lhota added. "I will campaign to unify our city."
In a brief speech that was abruptly interrupted by his wife, who ordered him off the stage, Catsimatidis conceded defeat and thanked his family and friends.
"I want to apologize to my staff that I didn't do better for all of you," he said.
"Next time I'll work harder!" he added with a smile.
Lhota will face off in the Nov. 5 general election against the winner of the Democratic primary, a race that was still in limbo as of early Wednesday morning.
Lhota wasted no time in drawing a line between himself and the potential Democratic nominee. He harped on a frequent theme of his that his experience dealing with 9/11 as a mayoral aide and Hurricane Sandy as head of the MTA prepared him to hit the ground running as mayor.
Lhota also said Democrats would return the city to darker days.
"We may be five boroughs but we are one city, one people and the last thing we want is to send our city back to the days of economic despair, fear and hopelessness," Lhota said.
To keep the city safe, Lhota voiced his support for the NYPD's tactic of stop-and-frisk, which a federal judge recently declared violated the rights of New Yorkers. The judge also ordered a federal monitor to oversee reforms of stop-and-frisk.
"Let me be very clear about something — handcuffing and demoralizing our police officers will have catastrophic consequences," Lhota said to applause. "I will support the NYPD and believe that stop, question and frisk must continue."
Lhota was the early favorite in the race. After leaving his position as the head of the MTA late last year, Lhota entered the run arguably as one of the most experienced candidates.
After working for Giuliani, he went on to work as a Cablevision executive. He was then tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the transit authority.
But Lhota’s pedigree didn’t stop Catsimatidis from entering the race earlier this year. The Gristedes grocery store founder had flirted with running before, most recently in 2009 against Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A self-described “liberal conservative,” Catsimatidis’ buoyant personality and willingness to freely spend his own personal wealth on the race quickly established him as Lhota’s chief adversary.
With the candidates generally praising Bloomberg’s handling of the city over the past 12 years, the campaign became a referendum on personalities and experience. Catsimatidis made Lhota’s purported temper a campaign issue, regularly mentioning he had called Port Authority police "mall cops." Catsimatidis also frequently mentioned the toll and fair hikes that occurred during Lhota's tenure as MTA chief.
Meanwhile, Lhota worked to leverage his long-standing relationship with former boss Giuliani — still a favorite among Republican voters — while focusing largely on the potential general election race ahead. His approach appeared to pay off as he retained his front-runner status in the polls all the way through primary day.
Giuliani was not present at the Hilton but appeared in a campaign ad that played before Lhota took the stage. In it, Lhota was seen talking to merchants who emphasized that "Joe is New York."
"This election is not about Democrat or Republican," Lhota said. "It has to do with who has the experience to lead this city in good times and bad."