NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama endorsed fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio on Monday in the race for New York City mayor.
Obama, in a statement, hailed de Blasio's vision of "progressive change," a campaign theme similar to the president's when he was elected in 2008. In endorsing de Blasio, Obama is calling attention to areas of policy overlap, such as expanded pre-kindergarten, affordable housing and health care.
"Bill's agenda for New York is marked by bold, courageous ideas that address the great challenges of our time," Obama said Monday.
Obama is the latest national Democrat to endorse de Blasio after he became the party's nominee. In the past week, the public advocate was backed by former President Bill Clinton, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and both of New York's senators.
De Blasio said the endorsement was "a tremendous honor" and that he hoped the President would campaign on his behalf. De Blaiso has made the fight against income inequality the centerpiece of his campaign and drew a link from it to Obama's health care reform.
"(It) was one of the fundamental acts of fairness and justice in modern memory," de Blasio told reporters at a campaign event in Queens. "I think it's an example of government at its finest."
In 2009, Obama waited until mid-October to endorse Bill Thompson. The delay — and the lukewarm tone of the endorsement — elicited criticism from some Democrats who felt the president should have done more to help Thompson. He lost to Mayor Michael Bloomberg that November in a race that was far closer than expected.
Although Obama has actively raised money for national Democratic campaign committees during his second term, he's mostly steered clear of endorsing individual candidates. But last month, Obama threw his support behind Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J., in his race for U.S. Senate.
De Blasio will face Republican nominee Joe Lhota and independent candidates in the Nov. 5 election. Lhota, the former head of the region's transit agency, downplayed the presidential endorsement.
"I fully expected the president would be supporting Bill de Blasio. That's not a surprise at all," said Lhota to reporters after speaking at a news conference outside the United Nations that was hosted by Jewish groups warning about Iran's nuclear program. De Blasio also appeared, but did not cross paths with Lhota.
Meanwhile, the Republican candidate utilized a New York Times story published Monday detailing de Blasio's stint as an activist in Nicaragua during the 1980s to illustrate the candidates' "very, very different political philosophies."
"Actions taken with the Sandinistas, who were fighting Americans as well as capitalism, was not the right thing to do during the Cold War," Lhota said.
De Blasio has spoken occasionally about his former support for the Sandinistas, Nicaragua's left-wing political party. He dismissed Lhota's rhetoric.
"I'm not surprised that my opponents will throw labels and call names," de Blasio said. "That's a Republican tactic. That's a right-wing tactic."