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Race and class: New York mayoral contest's battleground (+video)

Democrat Bill de Blasio says New York is 'a tale of two cities' separating rich and poor. Republican Joe Lhota says that's 'nothing more than class warfare – an attempt to divide the city.'

By Staff writer / September 12, 2013

New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio embraces his son Dante, left, daughter Chiara, second from left, and wife Chirlane McCray, right, at his election headquarters after polls closed in the city's primary election Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Kathy Willens/AP

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NEW YORK

As the New York mayoral election turns the bend toward its final stretch run to the Nov. 5 general election, an explosive set of themes have begun to emerge: race and class warfare.

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A little over a month ago, few might have predicted such a volatile contrast between the candidates who won this Tuesday’s primary.

But the dramatic and unexpected victory of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the most liberal of the primary candidates, has turned the general election into a highly-charged debate about the Democrat’s relentless focus on the economic divisions within the city, as well as his front-and-center use of his biracial family in the campaign. (A fraction of votes remain to be tallied before he is likely declared the party’s official nominee.)

Mr. de Blasio, who put together a startlingly broad-based coalition of the city’s diverse patchwork of Democrats, has illustrated his policies with an effective use of a Dickensian reference to “a tale of two cities” – a not-so-subtle reference to the famous novel about French peasants and aristocrats, which ends at the guillotine.

His opponent, Republican Joe Lhota, the former city transportation chief, called de Blasio’s campaign slogan “nothing more than class warfare – an attempt to divide the city” during his victory speech Tuesday night.

And on Thursday, his first day campaigning as the official Republican nominee, Mr. Lhota again lashed out at de Blasio’s campaign leitmotif.

“Calling it a tale of two cities, that level of invective has no place in any campaign, at all,” he said at one of his stops. “It divides people. What we really need to do is to work together and provide a solution, not separating people and then saying that the ends justify the means.”

Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the main target of de Blasio’s withering attacks during the primary, also suggested last week that de Blasio’s campaign was rooted in class warfare, adding it was racist, too. Mr. Bloomberg was careful, however, to say he was not calling de Blasio himself a racist. The Democratic candidate, who is white, is married to the black writer and political activist Chirlane McCray.

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