Liberal NYC Democrat wins Obama's backing in mayoral race

Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio walks with his wife Chirlane McCray after making an appearance in Union Square in support of demonstrating fast food workers on August 29, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Bill de Blasio campaign

NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday threw his support behind New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, lauding his fellow Democrat's commitment to "an economy that works for all" and a "bold, courageous" plan to lift more New Yorkers out of poverty.

De Blasio, a liberal who has campaigned on the idea that America's largest city should do more to address economic inequality, has a wide lead over Republican Joe Lhota, a deputy under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, ahead of the November 5 election to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall.

"Progressive change is the centerpiece of Bill de Blasio's vision for New York City, and it's why he will be a great mayor of America's largest city," Obama said in a statement distributed by the de Blasio campaign.

Obama cited de Blasio's plan to increase taxes on the city's highest earners to expand access to pre-kindergarten programs and efforts to prevent the closure of community hospitals as "bold, courageous ideas that address the great challenges of our time."

Lhota has praised the effort to expand pre-kindergarten programs, but has said there are ways to pay for it without a tax increase, while de Blasio's Democratic critics say it is doubtful the state legislature, which must approve changes in income tax rates, will go along with the plan.

Obama's endorsement differed sharply in tone from when he last weighed in on New York politics four years ago. In that race, Obama endorsed Bill Thompson, the Democratic challenger to Mayor Bloomberg - but he did so less than a month before the election and indirectly, through his spokesman.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)