Joe Lhota, the former MTA boss and Giuliani hatchet-man who now holds the Republican nomination for mayor repositioned his campaign yesterday, as he prepared to take on the progressive Bill de Blasio in the general election.

Driven by a need to pick off votes from the Democratic base for any shot of winning, Lhota framed himself as the candidate of "change" and de Blasio as a dangerous alternative who would lead New York back to the bad ol' days of crime and bankruptcy. But he also, strategically, sought to position himself as the candidate of change.

“Anyone who wants to buy into this conventional wisdom that the other side represents change and I represent status quo is going to be sadly mistaken,” Lhota told WOR-AM in an interview yesterday morning.

Meeting with leaders of the influential Lubavitcher Hasidic movement in Queens yesterday, Lhota tried to portray de Blasio's progressive taxation vision as one that would punish small business owners and scare businesses away from New York City. He claimed that de Blasio was advocating a plan that has "historically brought our city to the brink of bankruptcy and rampant civic decay."

The Lhota path to victory would include picking up Democrats who liked Bloomberg, Republicans who are energized by his association with Rudy Giuliani, and a fund-raising campaign powered by business interests that are scared of a progressive New York City mayor.

As a centrist, Lhota has already won the grudging respect of Transportation Workers Union chief John Samuelsen, who wrote an op-ed for the Daily News this week that was sprinkled with some of faintest praise.

"So what would a Mayor Lhota be like?" Samuelson mused. "At the MTA, he was a dramatic improvement compared to his predecessor, although surpassing Jay Walder in terms of human decency is no great achievement."

Lhota contends that the Bloomberg style of governing was not going to be one he would try to emulate: “Mayors need to be out there,” Lhota said on "Good Day New York" on Thursday. “People all around the city feel disenfranchised right now that no one at City Hall seems to be listening to them.”

For Lhota to win, he needs to occupy the center as soon as possible, and try to win all the moderates he can as a kinder, gentler Bloomberg. Unfortunately for Lhota, de Blasio has already shifted his campaign away from the progressive vision he offered in the primary, and begun reassuring the business community he means no harm.