Glen Cove Mayor Reginald Spinello stood next to an empty podium Thursday night at what was advertised as a mayoral debate but challenger Anthony Gallo called "a campaign rally."

A "Councilman Tony Gallo" sign hung on the podium a few feet from Spinello as he fielded questions from a "moderator," while about 100 people listened in a meeting room in the Glen Cove Mansion Hotel and Conference Center.

Spinello set the date for the debate, and the Glen Cove Republican Committee -- which backs Spinello -- organized the event.

StoryMayor endorsed by 4 parties in re-election bidStoryCandidate wants debate, but after primary

Gallo had said he would not attend, and in an interview at his campaign headquarters Thursday night after the hourlong event, he deemed it a "charade."

"I'm not going to be bullied into a debate where he's setting up every single term of the debate," Gallo said.

Spinello, in turn, said in an interview after the event that he's "never seen someone who wants to serve as mayor who's afraid to address public events. He obviously has no issues to talk about. I feel bad for the residents."

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Spinello first proposed a debate at the July 28 City Council meeting, and Gallo accepted. He later said he would debate the mayor before the Sept. 10 Republican primary only if Spinello switches his registration from the Independence Party to the GOP. Gallo said primary debates were for members of the same party, and he proposed a debate with Spinello between the primary and the Nov. 3 general election.

Asked after Thursday's event about Gallo's invitation, Spinello responded, "I'll debate him anytime, anywhere."

Gallo said the mayor hadn't previously responded to his request. "I look forward to the debate," he said.

The GOP primary may be only a preview of the general election, because both candidates are expected to be on other parties' November ballot lines.

Spinello dismissed Gallo's argument that a GOP debate should be reserved for candidates who are registered Republicans.

"The last time I checked, I was the Republican candidate, and he was challenging me," the mayor said, adding that Gallo had backed his 2013 mayoral campaign when Spinello and Gallo ran together on the GOP slate.

But Gallo said receiving the blessing of the Glen Cove Republican Committee isn't the same as garnering grassroots support.

"Their main objective, their main goal, is to defend and to protect the status quo of the party," he said of the committee. "On the contrary, I represent the people of Glen Cove. I don't represent the party bosses and the special interest groups."