CIVIC CENTER — Tempers flared during the second televised mayoral debate between Democratic Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota, over a controversial ad peppered with scenes of riots and dead bodies.
The ad, produced by the Lhota campaign, showed the disturbing images in an attempt to portray life under a de Blasio administration as returning to the days of high crime and unrest.
De Blasio claimed the ad was “race baiting and fear mongering” and used “racial imagery” in an attempt to divide the city.
“There’s nothing race baiting about it,” responded a visibly upset Lhota, who continues to trail de Blasio by more than 40 percentage points in public polls just two weeks before the election.
De Blasio went on to suggest Lhota’s ad was taken out of the "divsive" playbook of Lhota’s former boss in City Hall, Rudy Giuliani. The comment only served to inflame Lhota even more.
“I’m getting sick and time of you impugning the integrity of Rudy Giuliani,” Lhota snapped.
The exchange occurred shortly after Lhota had to explain some indelicate statements made in the past, such as when he referred to Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an idiot in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and dismissing Port Authority police as "mall cops."
Lhota attempted to explain how both statements were taken out of context. While Lhota promised that these sorts of statements were something New Yorkers shouldn’t expect were he to become mayor, he admitted, “the fact of the matter is that I always call it the way it is,” he said.
Lhota also hammered home his message that de Blasio would make the city unsafe, through decisions like his support for the recently enacted legislation establishing a police inspector general to oversee the NYPD.
“It’s had an extreme chilling effect on their ability to do their job,” Lhota said of the measure.
Lhota also tried to tie de Blasio, who worked as a junior aide to former mayor David Dinkins, to the Crown Heights riots that erupted in the city in 1991.
“During that period of time there were 2,000 murders a year. It was the last time we had a race riot in this city,” Lhota said. “He is actually bringing us backward.”
De Blasio embraced his service under Dinkins, claiming that the Safe Streets, Safe Cities program that put hundreds of additional police officers on the streets “allowed us to start turning the corner on crime and bring us to the point we are today.”
The two also sparred over de Blasio’s signature plan to ask Albany to raise taxes on city residents earning over $500,000 a year to pay for universal pre-k and expand after school programs for middle school children.
Lhota said the plan was unnecessary to fund universal pre-k, which he also supports, and would end up hurting middle class New Yorkers.
“If you're in the middle class hold on to your wallet, because nobody has ever been able to just tax the rich,” he said.
De Blasio continued to defend the plan, which some observers see as unlikely to pass during a statewide election year, calling the hike “a modest increase of taxes on the wealthy" that would result in a better educated, more productive workforce that would ultimately be good for New York City’s economy.
“I think it will make it a better city for everyone,” de Blasio said.
The third and final debate between the two will air next Tuesday, Oct. 29.