MIDTOWN EAST — Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota told a room full of Republicans Wednesday that Rudy Giuliani is not a "jerk."
Lhota came to his former boss's defense during a breakfast debate between the Republican mayoral candidates sponsored by Crain's New York Business. He sprang into action when moderator Greg David, a Crain’s columnist, used the third-grade insult in reference to the former mayor.
"The city was called ungovernable, unmanageable; and unlivable," people at the time believed, Lhota said. "For you to disparage the 107th mayor of the city of New York with the word that you used…” he said, cut off my applause.
Later, after the debate, Lhota continued his defense.
"Using a pejorative to describe Rudy Giuliani in a forum like this is unfortunate," Lhota said. "I think he was wrong."
Lhota, who served as deputy mayor under Giuliani, has relied heavily on his former boss's connections and starpower to gain traction in the race since he stepped down as chair of the MTA.
He argued that, when Giuliani first took office 20 years ago, New York “was on the road to destruction” and desperate for leadership.
Lhota also argued that, without the right leader, the city would regress.
"Don't ever be lulled into thinking that that transformation is permanent," he warned. "It could easily slide back where it was."
The "jerk" comment was part of a question posed by David, who asked what made Lhota and his Republican challengers legitimate Republican candidates, given the fact that many only recently switched parties to run.
The face-off was the first to feature all of the GOP hopefuls, including supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, Doe Fund founder George McDonald, publisher Tom Allon, and for mer Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., who is currently lobbying the Republican party chairs so he can run on their party line.
A snap audience poll conducted during the forum found that 63 percent thought Lhota was the top candidate, followed by Catsimatidis with 20 percent, 10 percent for McDonald and single digits for Carrion and Allon.
As for the winner of the debate? The poll said Lhota came in at the top with 42 percent, followed by Catsimatidis at 26 percent. Allon and Carrion tied at 12 percent, and McDonald trailed at 8 percent.