By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio, already the clear front-runner a month before the November 5 election, widened his lead to more than seven in ten likely voters, a Quinnipiac University poll found on Thursday.
More than two-thirds of city voters have a favorable view of de Blasio, the city's public advocate, who has run on a liberal platform of addressing income inequality and reining in controversial police practices in his bid to replace Michael Bloomberg as the mayor of America's largest city.
Joe Lhota, a deputy under former Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and later the head of the city's mass-transit agency, is trailing with 21 percent. Just a quarter of city voters have a favorable opinion of Republican candidate Lhota, while a third say they haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion, the poll found.
"These numbers say Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's kids can start arguing over who gets the best bedroom in Gracie Mansion," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac poll. Gracie Mansion is the city's official mayoral residence.
Just five percent of voters said they are undecided, while 11 percent of voters said they could still change their allegiance, the poll found.
De Blasio has proposed raising taxes on the city's top earners to pay for an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs, increasing access to affordable housing and has pledged to do more to prevent the closure of hospitals in underserved areas.
Lhota has voiced support for de Blasio's pre-K effort but opposes any tax increase. He has also been a vocal supporter of crime fighting tactics developed under Bloomberg, including the controversial police tactic of stop and frisk.
De Blasio has been a fierce critic of the police tactic, which a federal judge found earlier this year amounts to "indirect racial profiling." Bloomberg and his long-serving commissioner Ray Kelly, have vigorously defended it as critical to the city's anti-crime efforts.
The city's murder rate has fallen from 649 deaths in 2001, when Bloomberg was elected, to 414 in 2012.
The poll found that more than half of New Yorkers think stop and frisk is excessive and leads to the harassment of innocent people, with 56 of white voters, 67 of black voters and 54 percent of Hispanic voters taking that position.
But New Yorkers are not quite ready to part ways with a police force that has continued the city's historic drop in crime. More than six in ten voters say they want the next police commissioner to come from the ranks of the current police force, while just a quarter of voters want to see a "fresh face."
De Blasio performs well when voters are asked about specific issues. Almost two-thirds said de Blasio will do a better job than Lhota improving the city's schools, and more than half said de Blasio will do a better keeping the city safe.
The poll of 1,198 likely voters was conducted from September 25 to October 1 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
(Editing by Diane Craft)