By JONATHAN LEMIREAssociated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - Following tradition, the New York City candidates seeking to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg ceased campaigning on Sept. 11, the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
A day later, they began breaking their silences, starting with Republican nominee Joe Lhota, who gave back-to-back radio and television interviews Thursday morning in which he discussed the "stark" differences between his policies and that of his likely Democratic opponent, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
"Bill has a completely different philosophy than I do on how to deal with public schools, how to deal with public safety, how to create jobs, how to deal with taxes. We're as divergence as you can possibly be," Lhota said on the WOR Radio's John Gambling Show.
De Blasio, who has been the most vocally anti-Bloomberg of the major candidates, emerged from Tuesday's primary election as the front-runner. Lhota won the Republican nomination outright after tying himself closely to many of Bloomberg's policies.
He told WOR and Fox-TV's "Good Day New York" that his biggest strength is that he'll talk and listen to anybody. He said he wants to restart town hall meeting throughout the city and to get parents involved in the education process.
"This campaign is going to be about change," he told WOR. "Anyone who wants to buy into the conventional wisdom that the other side represents change and I represent status quo will be sadly mistaken. It's absolutely not true."
De Blasio was slated to receive the support Thursday of unions that had previously backed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who finished a distant third. Late Wednesday night, the building service workers' union, SEIU Local 32 BJ, which had previously backed Quinn, endorsed de Blasio.
Lhota, whose party is outnumbered by Democrats 6-to-1 in the city, is trying to project an aura of stability to independents, moderates and business leaders wary of de Blasio's fiery rhetoric. He is a one-time deputy mayor to Rudolph Giuliani and former head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Asked if he will seek the support of Rev. Al Sharpton, Lhota said there was nobody he wouldn't talk to. As for getting Bloomberg's support, he said "anyone who wants to endorse me, that's great." But he said he was running on his own record and did not think endorsements were overly helpful.
Former comptroller Bill Thompson, the second-place finisher in the Democratic mayoral primary, did not release a public schedule for Thursday. But he vowed Tuesday night to stay in the race as the city's Board of Election recounts the votes.
De Blasio garnered 40.3 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday. But whether he will be the Democratic nominee in the November election remains to be seen.
To avoid an Oct. 1 runoff against Thompson - who received 26 percent of the vote - de Blasio needs 40 percent to become the outright nominee.
About 645,000 votes were cast in Tuesday's election - and on Thursday, the Board of Elections will bring back voting machines from local precincts to borough headquarters ahead of Friday's recount. On Monday, officials will add to the tally at least another 16,000 outstanding absentee and special ballots.
The race to succeed Bloomberg is shaping up as a referendum on the 12-year legacy of the billionaire who guided the nation's biggest city through the aftermath of 9/11 and the meltdown on Wall Street. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, is leaving office after three terms.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Jake Pearson contributed to this report.
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