It was a meeting that would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.
Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, who served as deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, tonight sat down with Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader who maintained an infamously antagonistic relationship with the Giuliani administration.
But everything went smoothly enough today. The pair emerged following a 30-minute meeting to a room full of press, but offered few details of the exchange, which Mr. Sharpton described as “cordial and candid.”
“Obviously we have different political party affiliations and different views, but I’ve always believed that you can disagree without being disagreeable, and that the tone of how the city is established is as important as anything else,” said Mr. Sharpton, standing on stage at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem.
Mr. Sharpton had invited Mr. Lhota to the meeting after the former MTA Chair said in a series of interviews that he was eager to meet with any and all groups in the city.
“I want to be the mayor of all New Yorkers and in the process of doing that I need to talk to all New Yorkers. I need to listen to them,” said Mr. Lhota, who described the meeting as “the first of many discussions” he hoped to have with Mr. Sharpton.
But the two men adeptly avoided any potentially prickly pitfalls and heated topic of discussion, sidestepping questions about Mr. Lhota’s Democratic rival, Bill de Blasio, as well as Mr. Lhota’s former boss.
“I don’t want to get into a comparison of anybody,” said Mr. Sharpton when asked about Mr. Giuliani. “I’m not here to take shots,” he added, insisting that everyone knows his opinions on the former mayor.
Pressed on the question, he responded: “I can’t remember beyond 12 years. I’m getting old.”
The two said they’d discussed stop-and-frisk—“where we’re not going to agree,” Mr. Sharpton noted—as well as NYCHA and education, but details were slim.
“We talked about stop-and-frisk. Next,” said Mr. Sharpton.
“His wife went to seminary. We talked about the lord, ’cause we knew the press was outside. We needed to pray,” he quipped when asked about other topics of conversation.
Still, Mr. Sharpton seemed hopeful about Mr. Lhota’s outreach.
“I think that I understand he’s willing to defend and to say what he believes in front of any audience in the city, even though he knows it may be an audience that doesn’t agree with him. I think that’s a good omen,” he answered, welcoming Mr. Lhota back to discuss his ideas with Mr. de Blasio.
Mr. Lhota would not say whether the meeting had led him to reconsider any of his positions but struck a hopeful tone.
“There’s common ground there,” he said. “There’s room there for understanding and agreement.”