After putting together a cheat sheet last week for the Democratic race for mayor, it's time for the GOP. I originally was planning on running this column on Monday – and then a little steamroller named Eliot came out of political retirement and messed up my timing. But this schedule change dovetails nicely with tonight’s first televised debate in the Republican race for mayor which will be on NY1 at 7 p.m. and repeated at 10 p.m. (We'll also have a half-hour post-debate show at 8 p.m.)
There’s a very strong chance that the party’s 20-year winning streak could come to an end this November but the Democrats do seem to have a knack of snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. These three political rookies are all pointing to Michael Bloomberg’s success in 2001 as their roadmap but unless they can win the lottery between now and November, they better come up with a different game plan.
One of the most-praised public officials in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Lhota quit his job as the head of the MTA to run for mayor. But much of the novelty of his candidacy has worn off and Lhota has been struggling to get attention in a campaign season that's been dominated by the return of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer. Smart, humorous, and irreverent, Lhota is a favorite with the political class.
Pros: Lhota is the only lifelong Republican among the three candidates and his time as deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani gives him his GOP bona fides. His years in City Hall help him say that he understands how the municipal government works – and he was Giuliani's point man in hammering out budget deals with the City Council.
Cons: He left the MTA without settling a contract with the transit workers union as well as socking riders with a bus and subway fare hike. Being irreverent has its drawbacks, especially when you say Port Authority police officers "are nothing more than mall cops." He's been unable to get past John Catsimatidis – distracting him from attacking the Democrats in the race.
For years, Catsimatidis has talked about running for mayor and now he's finally doing it. The founder of the Gristedes supermarket chain, Catsimatidis is worth roughly $3 billion through his energy and real-estate holdings and he fancies himself to be the next Michael Bloomberg. His family Christmas card has been the talk of the campaign trail.
Pros: Catsimatidis has deep pockets which means he could vastly outspend his rivals in the race and target Republican voters with expensive direct mail fliers. He's already been on the airwaves with TV ads and seems poised to aggressively push his campaign forward to primary day. A low voter turnout – which seems likely – could benefit his campaign. He's been able to win more institutional support than many predicted.
Cons: He seems less familiar with the issues than his two rivals and is like the kid who didn't quite do his homework in some of the candidate forums. Joking your way through the campaign trail can be dangerous.
The founder of the non-profit group The Doe Fund, McDonald was a longtime Democrat who switched his party affiliation to jump into a less-crowded primary. A smart and affable candidate, McDonald has been trying to get more attention in a very busy campaign season.
Pros: With his record of helping employ the homeless, McDonald can point to a tangible achievement while embracing the "compassionate conservative" label. With his years of operating The Doe Fund, McDonald knows many shakers and movers and is very familiar with the city's political structure.
Cons: Squeezed between Lhota's GOP credentials and Catsimatidis' fortune, McDonald has been the third man in a three-man race. As of the last campaign finance filing, his campaign was in debt. McDonald got into a ugly and time-consuming battle with the city's Campaign Finance Board. He's having a hard time breaking through the margins in a race that has already been marginalized.
So that's the Republican field. While the GOP certainly has an uphill battle on its hands this November, it's important to remember that Democratic infighting has proved fatal to that party in the past. Christine Quinn has ramped up the attacks on her rivals – which is music to the ears of these three Republicans. I'll look at the third-party options in the race next week so enjoy the debate tonight and excelsior!