THE BLOG
10/01/2013 05:03 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Somocistas for Lhota

Everybody knows in this most Democratic of cities, we would never elect as mayor anyone but a Democrat, except for the last five times.

But Democrats fell to Republican candidates at times of existential crises in the city, and a deeply divided party -- 1993 to Rudolph Giuliani, after the Crown Heights riots, and to Michael Bloomberg in 2001, as the World Trade Center site continued to smolder.

This year, Bill DeBlasio enjoys a unified Democratic party that has rallied around him after his primary win, and there is no catastrophic event -- at least not yet -- that Republican Joe Lhota can grab onto to undercut him.

So Lhota has turned to the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1980s, when a young, bearded and more idealistic DeBlasio was an ardent backer of the Sandinistas battling the Contras, who were darlings of the remaining backers of dictator Anastasio Somoza, President Ronald Reagan and his anti-communist minions here at home.

Even for New York, where our foreign entanglements can tend more to the Groucho than the Karl version of Marx, dipping into the Sandinista-Contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s is kind of weird.

We have a long history of politicians seeking local political advantage by sticking our collective nose into global affairs, such as when former Mayor John Lindsay in 1969 refused to meet the Saudi king upon his arrival at Kennedy International Airport -- thereby throwing away the city's vaunted Arab vote.

The latest foray into global affairs followed a New York Times profile of DeBlasio, which delved into his affinity for the Sandinista cause and his description of himself as a "democratic socialist," a term he does not remember using but seems quite likely he did. (DeBlasio has also had to fend off claims he is too close to taxi fleet owners, though there is no evidence the fleet owners are spearheading a secret campaign to create a Communist paradise in the five boroughs.)

Lhota, who is an eminently rational man, has started red-baiting DeBlasio, which almost seems quaint 24 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. DeBlasio, for his part, points to Lhota's self-proclaimed admiration for the late conservative Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, reaching back two decades before the Sandinista revolution.

Of course, Lhota earned his municipal chops under Giuliani, whose approach to foreign policy recalled Johnny Carson's description of Alexander Haig's contribution to diplomacy -- sneering.

I covered City Hall during the Giuliani administration, first for New York Newsday and later for the Daily News. I remember covering Giuliani's first meeting as mayor-elect with Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin after which he was asked if he had any views of foreign policy.

Sure, he had views, he said. For instance, he offered up his opposition to Macedonia using its country's name after it broke away from Yugoslavia. That stand appeared to be matter to no one but his Greek supporters in Queens -- including those who ran a social service agency to which he later steered a multimillion dollar contract for welfare reform processing.

Giuliani also stuck his foot in the backside of the Middle East peace process by sending a henchman to evict Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat from a Lincoln Center concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Never mind that Arafat -- who Giuliani declared an "uninvited guest" -- had met earlier that day with Jewish leaders, and that PLO and Israeli leaders met regularly. Even Ed Koch, not exactly an Arafat fan, said Giuliani had "behavioral problems dealing with other people."

Lhota, however, was clearly part of the rational wing of the Giuliani administration, an open-minded, highly competent and engaging operative who escaped the City Hall-imposed code of silence so often that reporters had to protect him against himself by putting things he said on background. He is a classic New York Republican, fiscally conservative and socially liberal, with a libertarian streak that has no problem with same-sex marriage, abortion rights or legalizing marijuana.

Maybe we should take this foray into Central America in the 1980s seriously. After all, Reagan warned that the Sandinistas, if they got control of the Nicaraguan army, would be only a two-day march from Harlingen, Texas. A couple of days later, they could be in Staten Island, the closest thing we have to a Republican stronghold. Maybe DeBlasio plans to disenfranchise an occupied Staten Island, a surefire way to guarantee his victory.

And we should keep our eyes out to see if anyone forms Somocistas for Lhota. Does anyone have Oliver North's e-mail address?