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Lhota draws from education donors as Thompson lags in polls

Two big-city schools chiefs are among the most recent donors to Joe Lhota’s mayoral campaign, according to finance records released today.

Campaigns must file their donor records today, and Lhota’s was among the first uploaded to the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s website this afternoon. The records show that former city schools chancellor Cathie Black gave the Lhota campaign $175, the maximum that the city’s public financing program will match, last week.

But Black, who spent three tumultuous months as chancellor in 2011 before resigning, was not the only schools chief to donate to Lhota, the city’s leading Republican candidate for mayor. MaryEllen Elia, the superintendent of Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools system, gave him $125 earlier this month, as did her husband, according to finance records.

Elia did not respond to requests for comment today. Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, is the eighth-largest school system in the country and a recipient of significant Gates Foundation funding to study teacher quality and try out changes to hiring and firing rules.

A third donor with education interests, hedge fund operator Whitney Tilson, described his support for Lhota in a recent edition of his email newsletter. After citing a portion of Lhota’s June education address that expressed strong support for charter schools, Tilson wrote, “I spent an hour with Joe a couple of months ago and was very impressed.” He donated $175.

The Campaign Finance Board has not finished uploading all candidates’ donor records. But even as candidates’ tallied their war chests, a new poll updated the race’s landscape.

The Quinnipiac poll showed the UFT’s pick, former Board of Education president Bill Thompson, continuing to trail the race’s leading contenders. It put Thompson at 11 percent in the Democratic primary, compared to 25 percent for former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is trying to reenter politics after resigning amid a sexting scandal in 2010, and 22 percent for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, seen as Thompson’s runner-up in the race to win the UFT’s endorsement, polled at 10 percent. Nearly a quarter of voters still have not made up their minds about whom to support, according to Quinnipiac.

Jonathan Prince, Thompson’s campaign manager, dismissed the poll, saying that it had historically misjudged how voters would perform on election day.

“Like I said two weeks ago, bad early polls don’t freak me out; good early polls don’t make me dance,” he said. “Fundamentals matter, not public horserace polls with an irrefutable history of undercounting minority performance. See you at the runoff.”

UFT officials expressed confidence that Thompson could cut a path to City Hall when they endorsed him last month.

“We need to make sure that this entire city school system is about helping teachers help children, and we now have the candidate we know will do that,” President Michael Mulgrew said at the time. “And we will fight with him and for him — because he is the next mayor of New York City.”