(CNN) - Joe Lhota is the GOP nominee in New York City's mayoral election, but Tuesday night he said he's far from a national Republican candidate.
Lhota, a deputy mayor under former GOP Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former head of the city transit authority, faced off against his Democratic opponent, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, in the first of three debates leading up to the November mayoral election. The two men are seeking to succeed outgoing three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In the heavily Democratic-leaning city which has nevertheless gone two decades without a Democratic mayor, it's little surprise that Lhota leaned as far to the center as possible in Tuesday night's showdown, highlighting his pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage stances.
"Do not lump me with the national Republicans," Lhota said.
But that didn't stop de Blasio, the overwhelming front runner according to the latest public opinion polls, from trying. He referred multiple times throughout the debate to Lhota's attendance at a tea party rally on Staten Island, which he claimed was Lhota seeking tea party allegiance.
"He wants to delay Obamacare for one year," de Blasio charged of Lhota, claiming that Lhota "is a mainstream Republican."
Lhota spent several moments during the debate resisting just that affiliation, including blasting the dysfunction that has Washington locked in a two-week-old shutdown and looming debt ceiling.
"Don't lump me in with people I'm constantly in disagreement with," Lhota said.
The debate focused predominantly on local issues like housing, education and the stop-and-frisk policing tactics championed by the independent Bloomberg, tactics that many have called racial profiling and that were severely constrained by a court ruling.
Neither man showed particular love for Bloomberg Tuesday night, with Lhota calling the multi-billionaire's preference for more ultra-wealthy in the city "insensitive."
De Blasio also went after the mayor's controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactics. He called for more cooperation between the community and the police department while saying he would not keep police commissioner Ray Kelly on the job precisely because of those tactics.
The tactic is tearing New York communities apart, de Blasio said. "We have to move away from it."
Lhota admonished de Blasio for wanting to drop the commissioner, citing the city's dramatic decline in crime rates under Kelly. He also defended stop-and-frisk, although he called for an overhaul of the tactic and better explaining of it to communities.
The tactic is essential for keeping the city safe, Lhota said, but "there's absolutely no room in this city for racial profiling."