Lhota Says Catsimatidis Ads ‘Piss Me Off’

The three GOP mayoral candidates at tonight's debate.

John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota and George McDonald at tonight’s debate.

Tell us how you really feel, Joe Lhota.

The former MTA chair joined his fellow Republican candidates at a mostly-genial mayoral forum tonight, where they lobbed bombs at common enemies like their Democratic rivals and agreed on virtually all policy fronts. But the good will ended when rival John Catsimatidis said he “liked” Mr. Lhota while declaring himself the most viable contender in the race.

“You don’t show it,” Mr. Lhota groused, pointing to the flood of negative advertising recently launched by the billionaire businessman’s campaign. “You sure spend a lot of money to piss me off.”

“Don’t be so sensitive,” Mr. Catsimatidis replied with a grin in front of the overwhelmingly Orthodox Jewish crowd at the Boro Park Y.

“I’m the least sensitive guy up here, You’ve got the thinnest skin of any man I’ve ever met in my life,” Mr. Lhota, also smiling, shot back.

Mr. Catsimatidis tried to circle back to his message.

“I believe I have an ability to win in November,” Mr. Catsimatidis continued. “So what is it all about? It’s all about winning. Having enough money and enough know-it-all to win.”

The forum, hosted by the Jewish Press, ended there, but as reporters flocked to the candidates, it was abundantly clear the animosity between the rivals was growing. Over the last week, the Catsimatidis campaign has blasted Mr. Lhota with a trio of television commercials, blaming him for toll hikes when he served as MTA chairman and zeroing in on Mr. Lhota’s “mall cops” gaffe from earlier this year, when Mr. Lhota dismissively compared Port Authority policeman to low-level mall security.¬†In turn, the Lhota campaign released a commercial featuring his old boss,¬†former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, condemning the “lies” of the Catsimatidis ads.

“Listen, I don’t care,” Mr. Catsimatidis told Politicker when asked what he made of Mr. Lhota’s comments at the forum. “I want the truth to be out there. I didn’t lie. Rudy got on the television and said I lied. What did I lie about?”

“I said three things. Mall cops. Guilty. Number two … he created a job for himself. He did. What was the third thing? There were three things,” he added.

“Tolls?” a photographer offered.

“He raised tolls, he did!” he replied. “Why is Rudy saying I’m lying? Think about what I just said.”

For his part, Mr. Lhota, typically reserved on the campaign trail, slammed Mr. Catsimatidis for being “desperate.”

“Desperate candidates do desperate things. John’s ads are chock full of mistruths and that doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “He even said flat out, ‘I’m going to spend as much money as I can to win,’ no matter how he wins.”

Mr. Catsimatidis has dropped nearly $4 million on the race, dwarfing the roughly $1.6 million Mr. Lhota, who is not self-financing his bid, has spent, according to the latest filings. Mr. Lhota, however, said he wasn’t worried about his financial disadvantage.

“He’s taken a scorched-earth strategy. I’m not worried about. I think the voters will see right through it. I will win,” he boasted. “All he’s doing is spending his money trying to impugn my integrity and quite honestly without any success.”

A third candidate, George McDonald, is also vying for the Republican nomination but has struggled to raise sufficient funds for the bid.