Harry Belafonte Creates A Whole Lhota Drama For Bill de Blasio

November 4, 2013

04nycmayor-02-articleLarge-v2Joseph J. Lhota spent the final Sunday of his flailing mayoral candidacy seemingly liberated from the burdens of a competitive campaign.

Joseph J. Lhota visited Coney Island for hot dogs at Nathan’s on Sunday.

Visiting a candy shop, Mr. Lhota appeared far more interested in the confections than the voters who stood a few feet away. Skipping high-energy rallies, he held a low-key event by the deserted Brooklyn beachfront, eating off-season hot dogs at Nathan’s and lamenting that the rides were closed.

Even his attacks on his Democratic rival had a peculiar feel: At one point, Mr. Lhota, a Republican, questioned whether Bill de Blasio was physically prepared to withstand the rigors of being mayor.

It was a stark contrast to the valedictory message and cheering crowds that dominated Mr. de Blasio’s day on the trail, where he received ovations at a church in Harlem and from unionized teachers at the Waldorf-Astoria.

But by day’s end, Mr. de Blasio’s usual discipline had been disrupted not by a foe, but by a longtime supporter, the actor Harry Belafonte, who made unexpectedly caustic remarks when introducing the Democrat at church.

Mr. Belafonte, 86, referred to the Koch brothers, Charles and David — the wealthy industrialists who have generously supported conservative causes — as “white supremacists,” adding: “They make up the heart and the thinking in the minds of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan.”

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Mr. de Blasio said later he disagreed with Mr. Belafonte’s characterization, but Mr. Lhota quickly issued a stern rebuke, demanding that the Democrat denounce the actor’s comments.

The dust-up aside, Mr. de Blasio, who is 40 points ahead in some polls, could not help reveling in his lofty political fortunes.

“I have not been in so many campaigns that have the particular reality we have in the polls right now,” Mr. de Blasio said with a smile, outside First Corinthian Baptist Church.

Ever the political operative, Mr. de Blasio urged his supporters to stave off complacency by taking their friends and co-workers — by hand, if necessary — to the ballot box on Tuesday.

“I think we are going to do very, very well,” he said.

For Mr. Lhota, however, nothing seemed to go quite right.

He was greeted by a swarm of cheering students — a photo opportunity any candidate would envy — only to learn the youngsters were Californians who had little idea who he was.

A large crowd awaited him at a rally in Brighton Beach, but most were there to support Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney who is running as a Republican after losing in the Democratic primary.

Then there was the man who spotted the balding, bearded candidate on the boardwalk and struggled to place the face. “Is that Corzine?” he asked, referring to the somewhat similar-looking former governor of New Jersey.

Mr. Lhota did his best to muster a confident tone. At Nathan’s, where he bought $197.12 worth of bottled water and frankfurters for aides and reporters, he mocked Mr. de Blasio for oversleeping and nearly missing a campaign event, calling the episode “a tale of two naps.”

“Give me a break,” Mr. Lhota said. “If you don’t have the physical wherewithal to be the mayor, you should not be the mayor.” He bragged that he needed only a few hours of sleep, saying, “My batteries get charged very quickly.”

Mr. de Blasio dismissed those remarks as laughable, and sought to reassure New Yorkers that he found ways to “sleep well enough every night and keep my energy high.”

Still, Mr. Belafonte’s comments became something of a headache for the Mr. de Blasio, and prompted the Kochs — one of whom, David, has bankrolled a political group supporting Mr. Lhota — to weigh in. A spokesman for their company, Koch Industries, called the comments “divisive and destructive,” not to mention false.

But with the election two days away, Mr. Lhota was already conceding some mistakes. In Brooklyn, he mused about his campaign’s slim bank account, saying “it would have been nice” to have more money to spend after the primary.

Mr. Lhota, a connoisseur of not necessarily healthy foods, seemed happiest when he walked through the doors of It’ Sugar, a fluorescent-lit confectionary on Coney Island.

“This is a huge Snickers bar,” Mr. Lhota said admiringly, brandishing a Brobdingnagian one-pound version of the candy. He browsed for 15 minutes, declaring his amazement at a gummy candy shaped like a sunny-side-up egg.

When a woman approached to ask about a community garden in the neighborhood being threatened by a developer, Mr. Lhota was polite, but brief, saying he would prefer to discuss the matter after the election — “when my schedule isn’t so hectic.”

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