Belafonte Called Koch Brothers 'White Supremacists' At De Blasio Event

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Voters in New York City will head to the polls Tuesday to elect the next mayor, and the contest has become heated with a new controversy on the eve of the election.

READ MORE: Westchester Police Departments To Travel To Harlem In Tribute To Fallen NYPD Officer Jason Rivera

Democrat Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has a nearly 40-point lead in the polls over Republican Joe Lhota. If de Blasio is elected, he would be the first Democrat elected mayor since 1989.

As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the controversy stemmed from a speech on Sunday by activist, actor and musician Harry Belafonte at a rally for de Blasio. Lhota was furious that de Blasio did not immediately repudiate the remarks.

Belafonte’s speech targeted Charles and David Koch – the co-owners of Koch Industries, one of the largest companies in the country.

“Already, we have lost 14 states in this union to the most corrupt group of citizens I’ve ever known. They make up the heart and the thinking in the minds of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil,” Belafonte said at the Sunday morning event at the First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem, as quoted in full in several published reports.

“They have names. They are flooding our country with money. They’ve come into to New York City — they are beginning to buy their way in to city politics. They are pouring money into Presbyterian Hospital to take over the medical care system,” Belafonte continued. “The Koch brothers — that’s their name.”

The Koch brothers are known for their support of the Tea Party and free-market advocacy groups. David Koch was also the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate in 1980, running on a platform in favor of abolishing Social Security, the Federal Reserve, minimum wage laws, welfare and several government organizations, according to multiple published reports.

David Koch also happens to be a key Lhota supporter, and Lhota was furious Monday that de Blasio did not shut down the speech.

“It shows the type of person he is to let that language spew out and not say a thing – in a church, no less,” Lhota said of de Blasio.

Lhota called Belafonte’s remarks “hate language.”

“His language was both offensive, it was race-baiting, it was hate language,” Lhota said Monday. “No matter where there is hate language, leaders in this city need to speak out and speak out quickly, not wait until after it’s over. When someone has hate language, you stop it in place, and you tell them right upfront to their face. It is unbelievably inappropriate.”

Koch brothers spokesman Rob Tappan was also quoted in published reports as condemning Belafonte’s remarks as “hateful rhetoric,” and said the brothers “have devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and a free society, where every individual is judged on his or her individual merits and they are free to make decisions about their lives,” according to multiple published reports.

De Blasio declined to reprimand Belafonte in person, calling him the “voice of wisdom,” but said later that his “characterization is something I do not agree with.” He stood by that position Monday.

“I felt very comfortable clarifying it afterwards,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said while he did not agree with Belafonte’s choice of words, he did agree with Belafonte’s sentiment about the Koch brothers and their politics.

“I do agree, however — deeply — that the Koch brothers are a negative influence on this country and on this city,” de Blasio said. “They are promoting an extremist right-wing agenda, and they’re using a vast fortune to do it, and I think calling them out for that is exactly the right thing to do.”

Also on the last day of the campaign, there was a dustup involving Lhota campaign tactics. Trucks with loudspeakers were spotted in various neighborhoods spewing anti-de Blasio rhetoric, including charges that he is a closet socialist.

“It’s inappropriate and obviously, it’s desperate,” de Blasio said.

A Lhota spokesman insisted the trucks were not authorized by anyone in their campaign, adding, “We have asked them to stop immediately.”

De Blasio did not seem to buy that line, saying he had some information suggesting the people involved were on the Lhota payroll.

Earlier Monday, both candidates hit the campaign trail hard, urging New Yorkers to get out and vote.

“I already had a double espresso which is why I can form full sentences and paragraphs with you right now,” de Blasio said while greeting voters in Bay Ridge.

De Blasio was upbeat on the last day of campaigning and refused to be drawn in by Lhota’s charge that his “tale of two cities” is a tale of two naps because de Blasio overslept and was late to a campaign event.

READ MORE: Lashawn McNeil, Suspect In Deadly Harlem Police Shooting, Was On Probation, Had 5 Prior Arrests

“My earliest recorded time at the Park Slope Y is 5:21 a.m.,” he said. “So I’m going to challenge all the members of the media one of these days to meet me at the Park Slope Y at 5:21 a.m. and see who wants to take me up on that.”

Later Monday, De Blasio worked the crowd at the Bay Eden Senior Center in the Bronx Monday, talking about affordable housing, lower utility bills, and his theme of two New Yorks.

“It’s just too difficult for too many people,” he said.

Despite the poll numbers in his favor, de Blasio continued to hammer Lhota.

“Mr. Lhota has offered just a pure continuity with the Bloomberg policies, and the people of this city clearly want change,” he said.

Lhota spent the morning meeting voters on the Upper East Side and dismissed the polls showing a huge lead for his rival.

“There is only one poll that counts, that’s the poll that opens up tomorrow at 6 a.m.,” he said. “That’s the only one that counts and that’s the only one I’m going to talk about.”

Lhota said he was still “optimistic” about the election even though he confided to a Jewish group over the weekend that he was praying for a miracle, CBS 2’s Kramer reported.

Later in the day, Lhota met with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in whose administration he served as finance commissioner, budget director, and deputy mayor for operations – among other positions.

“This is the man who was next to me on September 11, (2001),” Giuliani said. “This is a very brave man. This is a man who understands emergency response. The city couldn’t be better in his hands.”

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, Lhota continued to predict an upset victory Monday night.

“Most New Yorkers agree with my positions, not with my opponent’s positions,” Lhota said. “I’ve got to get the message out there. There are still a lot of people who I’m running into who are undecided, and every time I do run into them, I convince them.”

Meanwhile, New York State will be operating a hotline for residents who have trouble voting on Tuesday.

The Election Day hotline was launched last year. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said it’s aimed at helping people facing language issues and potential civil rights problems.

City election officials will also be all ready for an influx of voters.

“We’ll have 36,000 poll workers on hand to service the voters that come to vote,” city Board of Elections executive director Michael Ryan told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten.

Voters can call the hotline number at 800-771-7755 any time between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Election Day. For more information, click here.

Check Out These Other Stories From

[display-posts category=”news” wrapper=”ul” posts_per_page=”4″]

MORE NEWS: NYPD Officer Jason Rivera Fatally Shot, Officer Wilbert Mora Critically Injured Responding To Harlem Domestic Dispute

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)