New York City mayoral candidate Joe Lhota (R) speaks with the media after a debate with Bill De Blasio on October 30, 2013 in New York City. This is the final debate between the mayoral hopefuls before voters go to the polls November 5. (Photo by Peter Foley-Pool/Getty Images)

Despite being nearly 40 points behind his Democratic opponent in the polls, the Republican candidate for New York City mayor, Joe Lhota, is campaigning hard to reach as many New Yorkers as possible before Election Day.

In debates and commercials, Lhota has come out swinging at opponent Bill de Blasio. In one recent ad, Lhota depicts a city besieged by crime if de Blasio is elected. For its use of images from a 1991 race riot in Brooklyn, many have called the ad “race baiting” and “divisive” but the Lhota campaign has defended its message and the aggressive campaign against de Blasio.

TheGrio sat down with Lhota days before the final mayoral debate to discuss the controversial ad, his vision for the city and how he thinks stop-and-frisk can be applied fairly.

theGrio: Describe your vision for New York City?

Joe Lhota: I want to make sure that we reform our public school system, which is in severe need of reform. We also have a city that’s becoming unaffordable and that has to be addressed. I also want a safer city. Finally, I believe it’s important for the mayor to create an environment where the private sector can create more jobs to diversify our economy.

Also See: theGrio’s Q&A with Democratic candidate for NYC mayor Bill de Blasio

The only way that I know, and most economists know, to make a difference in income inequality is to have an expanding economy, a growing economy that allows people who are unemployed to become employed, for those who are underemployed to get better paying jobs.

That requires New York City to be a magnet. And there are two types of magnets. There are magnets that attract and there are magnets that repel. I want New York City to be a magnet that attracts businesses here. And it’s very important we use our tax policies to do it.

Public schools – the mayor is responsible for making sure that 1.1 million kids get a proper education. We’re not doing a good enough job right now. We need to really reform our public school system. We need to get rid of a lot of what I believe is middle management within the department of education and get as much more money into the classroom.

Let’s talk about public schools. Where do you think the city is failing?

I don’t think what we have now is a money problem. We have a spending problem when it comes to education. What I mean by that is, we’re not spending it in the classroom the way we should. We’re not spending it with the teachers, getting them the professional development and training they need to be excellent teachers. I want them all to be excellent teachers.

I’ve been on the board of City University of New York for years now. We intersect with high school graduates who want to go to any one of our seven community colleges. Last year was the worst in the 12 years I’ve been on the board. Graduates of New York City high schools, 81 percent of them were deemed incapable of doing college-level work based on their entrance exam. That’s a shocking number to me.

And so, at the university level, we set aside about $35 to $36 million in remedial education for reading, writing, and arithmetic. To have 81 percent… think about that, the kids who want to go to college to lift themselves up. And the school system failed them. So, CUNY is spending money to do the job that the public school should have done. We really have to change our public schools because we have to give our kids a chance to be successful. I want these kids to be able to get the jobs that are created here in New York.