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Lhota Blasts De Blasio's 'Unfortunate' Early Socialist Activism

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayoral front-runner Bill de Blasio found himself on the defensive Monday, after his Republican rival Joe Lhota attacked him for supporting Nicaragua's former Sandinista government and honeymooning in Cuba.

On Monday, The New York Times published an article detailing de Blasio's activist work in Nicaragua in the 1980s. He visited the country to help the poor during a civil war and grew to admire the ruling Sandinistas, whom the Reagan administration denounced as tyrannical and Communist, the article said. It also mentioned that the Democratic mayoral nominee and his wife, Chirlane McCray, visited Cuba on their 1994 honeymoon, which violated a U.S. travel ban.

Lhota, a former deputy mayor and ex-MTA chief, and de Blasio, the city's public advocate, both attended a rally Monday near United Nations headquarters in Manhattan where they agreed that the U.N. should pressure Iran to end its nuclear program.

Lhota Blasts De Blasio's 'Unfortunate' Early Socialist Activism

But speaking to reporters, including CBS 2's Marcia Kramer and WCBS 880's Rich Lamb, away from the podium, Lhota was quick to blast his foe, who maintains a large lead in the polls.

"Going to Cuba illegally is never a good thing in this country," Lhota said.

"I believe actions taken like the Sandinistas, who were fighting Americans as well as capitalism, was absolutely not the right thing to do during the Cold War," he added.

Lhota also attacked de Blasio for reportedly describing himself as an advocate of "democratic socialism."

"There are words that I don't like to use, but in his own words, he called himself a 'democratic socialist.' It's really unfortunate that that's the level that we've come to in this city," said Lhota.

De Blasio, who was endorsed earlier Monday by President Barack Obama, did not deny the trips to Cuba and Nicaragua or his early concerns about income inequality and the poor.

Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio attends a press conference outside the United Nations headquarters on Sept. 23, 2013. (credit: Getty Images)

"I've talked all my life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I've talked about a tradition of compassionate government, an activist government, and I've talked about not accepting a tale of two cities," he said. "The reason I got involved in activist work from the beginning was I saw inequality. ... I saw unfairness, whether it was what we face in neighborhoods all over our city or whether it was the way our country was treating small countries in our hemisphere.

"I'm not surprised that my opponents will throw labels and call names. That's a Republican tactic. That's a right-wing tactic. We've all seen it plenty of times."

De Blasio's official biography on his campaign website makes no mention of his activism.

He did not directly address his honeymoon in Cuba.

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