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Lhota: De Blasio 'Needs To Explain Himself' Over Cuba Honeymoon, Sandinista Support

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio was on the defensive Tuesday, explaining his support for the socialist government of Nicaragua and a honeymoon in Cuba that was so secret that he never told his kids.

In a statement Tuesday, Lhota said de Blasio "needs to explain himself -- and explain himself now" and doubled down on his accusation that de Blasio is engaging in "class warfare" in his campaign.

Lhota: De Blasio 'Needs To Explain Himself' Over Cuba Honeymoon, Sandinista Support

"Mr. de Blasio's involvement with the Sandinistas didn't happen in 1917; it happened 70 years later when the cruelty and intrinsic failure of communism had become crystal clear to anyone with a modicum of reason," Lhota said. "Mr. de Blasio's class warfare strategy in New York City is directly out of the Marxist playbook. Now we know why."

Campaigning in Queens Tuesday, Lhota said he was concerned about "the future of the City of New York."

"It does concern me because I don't believe his theories are gelled out," he said. "I question anyone here to find a government that has espoused communism and Marxism the way he has supported the Sandinistas."

Lhota: De Blasio 'Needs To Explain Himself' Over Cuba Honeymoon, Sandinista Support

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 report 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.

As CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported, Lhota said it was troubling in particular that de Blasio and his wife kept the Cuban honeymoon a secret from their children.

De Blasio's daughter, Chiara, was quoted in published reports as saying one of the biggest surprises of the campaign was learning that her parents had honeymooned in Fidel Castro's Cuba.

"His daughter said it was the most important thing she's learned on this campaign," Lhota said. "One of the things I always do is tell my family the truth."

Lhota said he believed there was a reason why he did not tell his children about the honeymoon.

"When he was married, it was illegal for any American to go to Cuba," Lhota said.

Lhota on Tuesday was trying to make the Sandinista support and the Cuba trip part of a pattern.

"His philosophies are dangerous," Lhota said. "What he wants to do in government is dangerous."

De Blasio tried to make light of the Cuban honeymoon on Tuesday.

"We didn't tell our children a lot of things about our honeymoon," he said.

De Blasio also defended his past support of the Sandinista government Tuesday and said he was "very proud" to be involved in that work.

"I think at that time, United States policy towards Central America was wrong," he told CBS 2's Weijia Jiang. "I think most Americans came to believe it was wrong. I was proud to be an activist working against it."

Lhota also called de Blasio a "democratic socialist," and de Blasio was asked about his use of the term again on Tuesday. It was apparently written in his own handwriting from a retreat at the Nicaragua Solidarity Movement of Greater New York, of which records are kept at NYU in the archives, Kramer reported.

As CBS 2's Lou Young reported, the archived minutes of a meeting of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network, a group whose meetings de Blasio last attended in 1991, list, in shorthand, "end capitalism and replace with democratic socialism tomorrow" as an immediate goal. But the notes CBS 2 obtained do not attribute the comment to de Blasio himself.

Rather, in a section titled "Bill," the same document seems to paint him as a dissenter -- "disagree with (negative) subcurrent," it reads, as de Blasio apparently launched into an extensive analysis of U.S. foreign policy.

He did apparently say, though, that, "People don't believe (politicians') lies."

Nicaragua Solidarity Network Document
Bill de Blasio's signature apparently appears on this Nicaragua Solidarity Network document. (Credit: CBS 2)

"I literally don't remember, nor do I understand, what he's referring to," de Blasio said. "Some notes, and I don't know what they're from, and I haven't seen them. I'm happy to look at them, but the bottom line is how much I have humbly tried to model my philosophy after that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- progressive and activist approach to government, an aggressive use of the tools of government to work for social justice and economic justice – that's what I believe in."

Bill DeBlasio
An archive photo of Bill DeBlasio in his days as a political activist. (Credit: Marquette University Archives)

De Blasio denied that he identifies as a "democratic socialist."

"I do not identify myself that way," he said. "I've talked over the years about lots of different ideas, but I identify myself as a progressive Democrat."

He dismissed Lhota's demands as an attempt to use politics to divide voters.

"What I'm seeing from the other side is just a classic Republican tactic, a classic right-wing tactic of division," de Blasio said. "And someday, I think the people in this city will reject it."

De Blasio Praised By Liu, President Obama
Meanwhile Tuesday, city Comptroller and former Democratic mayoral rival John Liu endorsed de Blasio, calling him "a leader who would stand up for working and middle-class families."

And on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama praised de Blasio at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel attended by about 250 people. He said he could not have been prouder of the campaign de Blasio ran, 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported.

De Blasio was present along with his son, Dante, who became a local celebrity for his camapgin ads on behalf of his father. Obama prompted laughter when he said Dante had the same hairdo that he himself did in 1978.

"I have to confess my afro was never that good and balanced," Obama said.

Obama Praises De Blasio At Fundraising Event

The Rev. Jesse Jackson attended the event, and said it was a big night for de Blasio.

"The president's warm endorsement today – it's an inspiration for the candidate, but also, it will help in fundraising," Jackson said. "Right now, he's on a roll, and I think that if he continues in this way, he will inspire, and he will win."

De Blasio leads Lhota 3-1 in the polls.

Lhota and de Blasio candidates are set to square off in a series of three debates over the next six weeks before the general election on Nov. 5.

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