UPPER WEST SIDE -- Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio went on the attack early against his Republican opponent Joe Lhota in their first head-to-head debate for the general election Tuesday night, calling him a "classic Republican" who believes in "trickle-down economics" and "Tea Party extremism."
"He does subscribe to the views of the national Republican party," de Blasio said.
Lhota, who is running in a city with a 6-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage, bristled at the characterization.
"Don't lump me in with people that I'm constantly in disagreement with," he said.
For his part, Lhota sought to portray de Blasio as a career politician who lacked the experience to be mayor.
"I've got more direct management in the city of New York," said Lhota, who served as deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani and as head of the MTA under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "I can be the mayor on day one without any training or any learning curve."
De Blasio, who himself served in the Dinkins administration and is currently the city's public advocate, said the issue was less about experience and more about priorities.
"I've had lots of experience of what New Yorkers need from the grassroots up," he said. "The bottom line is, whose side are you on?"
The debate was a critical opportunity for Lhota, who languished behind de Blasio in the latest poll by more than 40 points.
Lhota agreed with his Democratic opponent that the mayoral election was about making a sharp shift from the Bloomberg years. He vowed to continue to keep the city safe, while supporting economic policies that simultaneously strengthen the social safety net and create better jobs.
"This election is not about the past. It's about the future of the city of New York," Lhota said.
The front-runner since the general election began in September, de Blasio remained on message, vowing to reform the NYPD's use of the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic, as well as reaffirming his goal of raising taxes on city residents who make over $500,000 a year to pay for universal pre-kindergarten.
"We'll get it passed in Albany because we're going to build tremendous public support," he said.
The general election is on Nov. 5. The next public debate between the two candidates will be held on Oct. 22.