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The Contenders: Lhota Rose Quickly In Giuliani Administration

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In the latest installment of "The Contenders," NY1's Courtney Gross takes a look at Joseph Lhota's role inside City Hall during the Giuliani administration, where he quickly rose from finance commissioner to deputy mayor.

One of Joseph Lhota's titles in the Giuliani administration was described by the former mayor as "the most difficult job in city government."

From 1994 through 2001, Lhota served as a chief of staff, finance commissioner, budget director and finally deputy mayor for operations under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

"Joe felt deeply if someone called, we really had an obligation to respond," said Chris Augostini, Lhota's former chief of staff.

Lhota was certainly responding a lot in City Hall, creating a new debt system to ensure the city could continue to borrow money.

He also spearheaded the closure of the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, directing trash to New Jersey.

When he was told the trucks couldn't fit through the tunnel, former Deputy Mayor Bob Harding said that Lhota responded, "Remove the fender."

"I can't imagine what would have happened had Joe not have simply said, 'Oh, OK, I just saved you two inches. Knock yourself out. Now get the garbage the hell out of Staten Island,'" Harding said.

It was Lhota who said the city should no longer paint police cars blue. They came white. Painting them was a waste of money.

Lhota was not shy about sharing his opinion, either. In a 1994 letter, Lhota said that prevailing wage legislation would be a catastrophe for the city's housing development.

Those close to Lhota at City Hall say he worked hard and always listened. But on a handful of occasions, Lhota went after those who crossed him.

"Where Joe I think gets agitated is when people are not engaging in legitimate dialogues," Augostini said.

He asked some on Wall Street not to donate to the fiscal watchdog Citizens Budget Commission for criticizing the Giuliani administration. He went after the Brooklyn Museum for a controversial painting of the virgin Mary.

"There's too much hucksterism at the Brooklyn Museum," Lhota said at the time.

It's clear that the numbers-driven practical Lhota had a political side. On notes from the commuter tax debate, he was already questioning whether some that voted against the city would be vulnerable to primary challenges.

Those close to Lhota, though, say that his sense of humor typically won out. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP