Republican New York City mayoral candidate Joe Lhota is apologizing for saying that Port Authority police officers are "mall cops."
Lhota made the remark at a Pace University candidate forum on women's issues Tuesday night, in response to a question about sex trafficking through John F. Kennedy Airport, which is run by the Port Authority. The PAPD lost 37 members in the 9/11 attacks.
"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," Lhota said. "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."
Lhota, a former Giuliani administration official and MTA chairman, said in a statement Wednesday that he was sorry for the "insensitive" remark.
"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."
The Port Authority called Lhota's comments "dead wrong" and "offensive," saying they suggested a lack of understanding for what its officers face each day on the job.
"The 37 PAPD officers who died in the line of duty on September 11 were not 'mall cops,' nor are the many other heroic men and women of the PAPD who risk their lives every day while protecting some of the region's most valuable assets and the millions of people who use them," Port Authority Chief Security Officer Joseph Dunne said in a statement.
Patrick Lynch, the president of the NYPD's union, Police Benevolent Association, added in a statement, "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."
"On 9/11 we searched together for 23 NYPD officers and 37 PAPD officers who sacrificed their own lives while evacuating others to safety," he said. "If that doesn't speak to professional policing, then I don't know what does."
Republican rival John Catsimatidis said in a statement that it was "sad" what Lhota said.
"As mayor, I would support law enforcement, not knock it down," Catsimatidis said.
-Andrew Siff contributed to this report