Spin Cycle

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Lhota's 'mall cops' flap is latest in a series

Republican mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota at a news

Republican mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota at a news conference on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan last month. Lhota is apologizing May 8 for saying that Port Authority police were "nothing more than mall cops." (April 1, 2013) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Whoops, sorry — that’s three for Joseph Lhota in recent memory.

First there was the MTA board meeting where he as chairman urged a board member to “be a man” and brought up past parking-placard questions. Lhota apologized.

Then there was the episode after Sandy where Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave out false speculative information about reopening the Queens Midtown tunnel and Lhota said in earshot of a reporter that the mayor was making up the information, “like an idiot.” He apologized for that one too.

Now comes a third offense-and-apology in the series. Last night the former top aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani — whose administration spent much of its tenure at war with the Port Authority — referred to the PA police as “nothing more than mall cops.”

Remember that before 9/11, Giuliani was trying to privatize the Queens airports under a British company represented by the firm of then mayoral ally and lobbyist Ray Harding, the later-convicted Liberal Party leader.

Here's the story Newsday's Matt Chayes filed last night.

The fuller context for the Port Authority statement was:

"I don't think the Port Authority does a good enough job in anything that they do, quite honestly, but particularly in the area of security . . . Those cops get paid more than NYPD cops and quite honestly — and I know I'm going to get in trouble for saying this — they're nothing more than mall cops."

While some in law enforcement were undoubtedly cheering the would-be GOP mayor’s words — in none of these cases was Lhota totally in the wrong — folks such as James Carver, president of the Nassau County PBA, jumped on the case.

Carver: “Mr. Lhota’s remarks are an insult to every man and woman who put their lives on the line every day as a police officer.  Working as a security guard or anyone whose job is to protect people’s safety is a very respectable and important job, but police officers undergo rigid law enforcement training as well as develop a keen understanding of the municipalities in which they serve.”

Thirty-seven Port Authority police officers were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, he noted.

And Lhota’s apology went this way:

"In response to a question at last night's National Organization for Women debate regarding the proliferation of human trafficking at JFK Airport, I regret my unfortunate characterization of the Port Authority Police Department. It was an inappropriate answer that does not accurately reflect the hard work of its officers. I apologize for my insensitive remarks and look forward to working collaboratively with them to find ways to better combat sex trafficking throughout the city."

While rivals have license to jump on the characterization, it still may be a good idea to carefully consider the merits of what Lhota was trying to say in all three of these cases. Was he off the mark in his characterization? Still, the episode may show that as hard as his staffers may work to keep him from shooting from the lip, Lhota might just be irrepressible. Reminds some of us of Bloomberg's public free-associating during the 2001 campaign when he was clearly struggling to make the transition from private boss to candidate.

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