Former MTA chairman Joseph Lhota is laying the groundwork for a mayoral campaign. The Republican hopeful sat down with a potential rival for a secret meeting, raising questions about whether he is trying to clear the field before he officially announces his run. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
Former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota held a secret sit-down with billionaire John Catsimatidis. The two men are the biggest heavy hitters in the crowded Republican field for mayor.
"He's a nice guy, but he has to raise the money," Catsimatidis said. "That's the big challenge to him."
Lhota is expected to officially kick off his campaign later this month. He declined to comment on the meeting.
If it was an effort to begin elbowing Catsimatidis out of the race, it did not seem to work, at least not right away. The owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain has a vast personal fortune on his side.
"I told him I would write a check for $10, $20 million and try to make myself competitive," Catsimatidis said. "And I said to him, 'I think that's your challenge, and you have to decide what you want to do.'"
It was just the latest stop for Lhota in what has been a busy start to the new year. The former aide to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani quit his post at the transportation agency at the end of December. Ever since, he has been meeting with top Republicans.
"We'd rather not have a primary and concentrate on the main election," said Phil Ragusa, the chairman of the Queens GOP.
Republican leaders say they are impressed by Lhota, but some are not willing to back him just yet. They say John Catsimatidis is their top pick for the job.
"He is a quintessential New Yorker who, despite his wealth, hasn't changed who and what he is as a person," said Dan Isaacs, the chairman of the Manhattan GOP.
Ragusa said Lhota should consider a down-ticket position instead.
"I think Joe would be perfect for comptroller," he said.
Edward Cox, the chairman of the New York State Republican Party, whose son is married to Catismatidis' daughter, is disputing the idea that Lhota would lead the pack when he gets into the race.
"I don't think anyone's a front-runner here," Cox said. "The person who's been running the longest for mayor is John Catsimatidis."
Consider it Lhota's first election fight. And his campaign has not officially begun.