It's dangerous to break bread at a Tea Party – at least one on Staten Island.
While Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota has recently been talking tough against the conservative strain of his party, he was singing a different tune when he met with them in April, telling them it should be easier to get a gun permit in the city and throwing around the word "un-American" when talking about the teachers union.
Ironically, the tape of the meeting was provided to NY1's Courtney Gross by a Tea Party member who supports Lhota. But some of the group's members are angry with the candidate because while he seemed sympathetic to many of their issues in the spring, he has now – in the words of one of the group's leaders – thrown the group "under the bus."
This is the danger of running for office. Being willing to meet with everyone is a good thing – but agreeing with them or telling them everything they want to hear is a different matter. In his uphill campaign, Lhota has been trying to talk with every political interest group but if you're not careful you can catch the bends ricocheting from Staten Island to Al Sharpton's Harlem headquarters.
Lhota is hardly the only one guilty of trying be all things to all people. Bill de Blasio last week described himself as a "fiscal conservative" to the pro-business Association for a Better New York and reinvented himself when he told a reporter this next day: "I’ll try this on for size: I am a fiscally responsible progressive."
But political views aren't just clothing that you can take back to the store if voters don't think they fit. Ask Fernando Ferrer who got into a mess when he ran for mayor in 2005 and told the police sergeants union that the cops who shot an unarmed Bronx man shouldn't have been charged with a crime. Ferrer had previously called for the police officers involved to be fired and wrote an angry column when they were acquitted of murder. The distraction sparked a controversy that helped sink Ferrer's candidacy.
Or turn to the national front where Mitt Romney got badly burnt last year when a secretly-recorded tape of him at a fundraiser emerged in which he told the Republican audience that 47 percent of Americans are too dependent on government.
Joe Lhota is certainly no Tea Party animal – but his sympathetic remarks to the group serve as yet another distraction to his campaign when he's badly trailing in the polls behind de Blasio. Candidates have to watch what they say – or the party's over.
Programming note: NY1 tonight is hosting the official Campaign Finance Board debate in the race for City Comptroller. Democrat Scott Stringer will face off against Republican John Burnett in our studios with NY1 Political Anchor Errol Louis and WNYC's Brian Lehrer from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. (We'll re-air the debate at 10 p.m. ) And NY1's Josh Robin will host a special half-hour post-debate show following the debate. Enjoy!