Former MTA chairman and mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota is under fire for comparing Port Authority police to "mall cops" at a forum Tuesday night.
Lhota was asked a question about improving airport security when he began to express his reservations about the quality of Port Authority police officers, the New York Times reports.
“Quite honestly, and I know I will get in trouble for saying this, they are nothing more than mall cops,” Mr. Lhota said at Pace University in Lower Manhattan.
Lhota issued an apology Wednesday morning, but his comments had already sparked anger among police groups.
“I’ve had 9/11 widows call me this morning,” Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, told the Times on Wednesday. “They are not pleased at all.”
Thirty-seven Port Authority officers died at the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
PBA spokesman Patrick J. Lynch said, “New York City police officers have worked side by side with Port Authority police officers for many years, and we have found them to be well-trained and highly experienced professional police officers."
The comment comes as a surprise. The mayoral candidate is the son of a New York City police lieutenant, and as a former deputy mayor of operations, Lhota suffered from health complications after he, too, rushed to the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11.
“I regret my unfortunate characterization of the Port Authority Police Department,” Lhota said in his apology. “It was an inappropriate answer that does not accurately reflect the hard work of its officers.”
But his apology may be too little, too late.
“I don’t think he has a chance to be mayor of New York City, and I would certainly be out there campaigning against him if he ever got close,” Nunziato said.
Rival Republican mayoral contender John Catsimatidis quickly took advantage of the blunder and issued the following statement: “It’s sad that the son of an NYPD lieutenant would take verbal shots at the Port Authority police or any law enforcement organization. As mayor, I would support law enforcement, not knock it down.”