By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Democratic front-runner to succeed him as mayor is waging a "class warfare and racist" campaign, according to an interview published on New York Magazine's website on Saturday.
Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate who has built his campaign around the issue of rising economic inequality, has been surging in public polls, overtaking the longtime front-runner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Bloomberg ally.
"Tearing people apart with this ‘two cities' thing doesn't make any sense to me," Bloomberg is quoted as saying. When the interviewer offers that de Blasio "has in some ways been running a class-warfare campaign, Bloomberg cuts in, "class warfare and racist."
He pointed out that de Blasio had used his biracial son in a campaign ad, but then conceded that for the candidate, whose wife is African-American, to reach out to black voters might be little different from Bloomberg, who is Jewish, reaching out to Jewish voters.
Pressed specifically about his use of the term "racist," Bloomberg said, "Well, no, no," before adding, "He's making an appeal using his family to gain support."
With Tuesday's primary contests looming, Bloomberg also offered a tacit endorsement of Quinn on the Democratic side and, on the Republican side, Joe Lhota, the former head of the city's mass transit agency, saying the New York Times endorsement of those candidates got it right.
"I thought the Times was right in their editorials on Lhota and Quinn. I'm very pleased about that," Bloomberg said.
As Speaker, Quinn "did a very good job for seven and a half years of keeping legislation that never should have made it to the floor, that would have been damaging to the city, from ever getting there," Bloomberg said.
At an event in Brooklyn, de Blasio said the comments were "very unfortunate."
"We are living in a tale of two cities, and ignoring it isn't going to move us forward," de Blasio told an event in Brooklyn. He cited an analysis published in April that 46 percent of New Yorkers were living in or near poverty.
Since taking office in 2002, Bloomberg has been credited with a historic drop in crime, sweeping changes to the city's public schools and making New York a national leader on public health and carbon reduction. But the billionaire mayor is often criticized for appearing out of touch on issues such as the city's affordability and services for the poor and the homeless.
None of the Democratic candidates have openly sought his endorsement.
Bloomberg's decision, four years ago, to seek a change to the city's term-limits law so he could run for a third term damaged the reputation of Quinn, who supported that decision. De Blasio emerged as one of the loudest opponents of the change, and the fight helped elevate his stature in the city.
'OUR POOR ARE WEALTHY'
In the magazine interview, Bloomberg reserved his strongest words for de Blasio, who is white, taking issue in particular with the visible role played by the candidate's wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black, and their two children.
De Blasio's son, Dante, who is biracial and wears his hair in a tall Afro, starred in a campaign ad that promoted de Blasio's opposition to the controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactic that overwhelmingly targets young black and Latino men.
"I think it's pretty obvious to anyone watching what he's been doing," Bloomberg told the magazine. "I do not think he himself is racist. It's comparable to me pointing out I'm Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about."
Bloomberg also took issue with criticism that the city's poor have suffered during his three terms in office, which comes to an end in 2014.
"I'm not being cavalier about it, but most places in the world our poor are wealthy. There's a lot of tragedy around the world," Bloomberg said.
Previous measures of poverty looked at income and not services available to individuals - like air conditioning, which Bloomberg said was available to most Americans.
"When we grew up we didn't have air-conditioning. Air-conditioning in the schools, the subways. Are you crazy? Now, by most of the world's standards, you ain't poor," he said.
And as for de Blasio's concept of two New Yorks, Bloomberg said that, if true, "it's one group paying for services for the other."
As the Democratic candidates criss-crossed the city in a flurry of last-minute campaigning, de Blasio's rivals denounced Bloomberg's comments.
Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller who hopes to make it into a run-off election with either de Blasio or Quinn after Tuesday's primary, called the comments, especially those about the city's poor, "offensive and callous."
Quinn said the remarks were "inappropriate, especially because they involved Mr. de Blasio's family."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Walsh)