CIVIC CENTER — Democrat mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio's massive frontrunner status is keeping potential Joe Lhota supporters from opening up their checkbooks for fear of alienating de Blasio, Lhota's frustrated supporters say.
With his poll numbers remaining at subterranean levels, Lhota has struggled to convince wealthy donors to continue to invest in his campaign — even though many of them are deeply opposed to de Blasio's stance on everything from promises to hike taxes, limit charter schools and vow to clamp down on stop-and-frisk — according to numerous political observers and sources close to the campaign.
“I’ve heard some monster names in the business community who are for Joe Lhota, but will not come out for him,” said Mark Gallagher, an attorney and Lhota supporter.
“There's this de Blasio steamroller that's going on and there's some concern about that,” he said. “Many people are supporting de Blasio simply because he's seen as the possible winner.”
De Blasio raised nearly $650,000 over the last two weeks of September, while Lhota raised just less than $279,000 over the same time period, according to campaign finance records.
Kathy Wylde, president of the business-backed Partnership for New York City, said many of the business leaders she speaks with think very highly of Lhota’s background in government and business.
But, she said, “There are a lot of people in the business community who are concerned about whether he can win."
Wylde added that de Blasio has made a concerted effort to reach out to business leaders to allay their fears after winning the Democratic primary.
“I think that people who sit down with [de Blasio] feel that he's an authentic person that would listen and that they'd be able to work with,” she said.
Anthony Coles, an attorney for DLA Piper, said he donated the maximum amount to Lhota’s campaign because he fears crime will go up and the economy will go down under Mayor de Blasio — a concern he said he hears from many people.
“The people I speak to are very hopeful about Joe prevailing,” he said, but added, “I don't think that anybody is starry eyed about his chances."
But Lhota hasn't lost all of his support. A number of Lhota backers — including the billionaire Tea Party backer David Koch and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s nemesis Ken Langone — are helping to fund a pro-Lhota political action committee called New Yorkers for Proven Leadership. The group has been airing ads on cable television and the Internet in support of Lhota.
If outside spending combined with the debates begin to give Lhota the momentum he's predicted will narrow the gap with de Blasio by election day, observers say supporters could begin to come forward.
Randy Mastro, who worked with Lhota in the Giuliani administration and has helped him fundraise as a bundler, said there was still time for Lhota’s stark contrast with de Blasio to sink in to voters and potential financial supporters.
“A month is a lifetime in politics,” he said.
Even while Mastro said he believed that Lhota’s “most important hours are to come,” he acknowledged that Lhota had precious little time to change the landscape of the mayor’s race.
“The clock is ticking,” Mastro said.
In a statement, Lhota campaign spokeswoman Jessica Proud said the campaign knew Lhota would be the underdog in the race, but promised the polls would narrow once voters heard Lhota's message.
"We will have the resources necessary to get our message out and we expect tremendous support from all New Yorkers who share Joe's vision for a stronger economy, more school choice for parents and a safe city," she said.