Last debate: Lhota loosely embraces Rudy and Catsimatidis proposes a referendum

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Lhota and Catsimatidis on Sunday. (via nbcnewyork.com)
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Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis thinks Mayor Michael Bloomberg's use of stop-and-frisk has saved more than 7,000 lives in mostly minority communities, just like police commissioner Ray Kelly says it has.

But when he was asked about a recent federal court decision finding the city's use of the police tactic unconstitutional, Catsimatidis suggested a novel solution to the ongoing controversy.

"Well, worst comes to worst, you know what we should do, put it to a referendum for all of the people that we're keeping safe," said the mayoral candidate on Sunday during the final Republican debate before Tuesday's primary.

Catsimatidis also expounded on an answer from the last debate, when he said that if his own son were stopped by police, he would ask him if he'd been "dressed funny" or "walking funny," by saying, "if he had his pants half down with his underwear showing, if he had his hat turned backwards…walking down the street as if you were drunk."

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Aside from Catsimatidis' proposed referendum, much of Sunday's debate consisted of the two Republican candidates, Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota, vying to outdo each other in their support for Kelly's policing tactics. (A third candidate, Doe Fund founder George McDonald, was excluded from the debate.)

Both said they would love to keep Kelly police commissioner, and, in the event Kelly doesn't want to stay on, both would very much like his help selecting a replacement.

When NBC reporter Melissa Russo asked Catsimatidis how he could promise to keep Kelly on board, while at the same time saying it would be premature to have that sort of discussion with Kelly, Catsimatidis responded opaquely: "Well, Melissa, there's such a thing as body language." 

Lhota, meanwhile, said that, "It is very, very important that we continue everything that Ray has started," including the surveillance of Muslims.

"I've been to many mosques, Melissa," said Lhota. "And I've talked to them about it. They understand. They know that not all Muslims are terrorists and are violent. They're fully aware of it. I will work with those communities to make them feel welcomed in New York."

The two candidates also spent some time bickering about Rudy Giuliani, Lhota's former boss and a key advocate in his run for mayor.

This morning before the debate, Lhota and Giuliani co-hosted a breakfast at Lhota's midtown campaign headquarters, at which Giuliani told my colleague Azi Paybarah that the attempts to describe Lhota as Giuliani incarnate are "silly."

"Joe Lhota is Joe Lhota," he said.

During the debate, Lhota disputed Catsimatidis' argument that his bid for office is little more than an employment program for old Giuliani hands. 

"There's only one person in my campaign who had worked in the Giuliani administration before," he said. Actually, there are two.

Later, Lhota insisted "this is going to be the first term of Joe Lhota not the third term of Rudy Giuliani," after slipping up in a question about the racially diverse appointments he'd make to his future administration.

"Freddy Ferrer, who I worked very very close with both when I was deputy mayor and at the M.T.A., where he was a boardmember, is somebody who I would love to work with again in the Giulia—," said Lhota, before catching himself—"in the Lhota administration, sorry."

Lhota has sent out campaign ads showing himself standing next to Giuliani near the rubble of the World Trade Center, back when Lhota was a deputy mayor, and today Catsimatidis and moderator Michael Howard Saul, of the Wall Street Journal, forced Lhota to account for the some of the city's failures leading up to the catastrophe, including the administration's decision to house its emergency operations office in the ill-fated skyscrapers, even after they'd endured an explosive attack in 1993.

"You know Monday morning quarterbacking is a really, really weird thing," said Lhota. "This is the same building that the Secret Service was located in, this was the same building that the Central Intelligence Agency was located in in the City of New York, it is the same building that the Federal Reserve Bank had its Open Market Committee. It was said to be the most secure building in the City of New York."

The debate concluded with a discussion about cats.

In late August, the M.T.A. halted train service on two subway lines for a couple of hours to rescue a pair of runaway kittens. Lhota was the only candidate to say that he disagreed with the authority's decision, which earned earned him some unflattering headlines.

"I'm not the anti-kitten candidate," insisted Lhota today. "Let's talk about the facts, let's talk about the real facts here. First off, as you all know, I have pets. I love pets. I grew up with cats."

"He tells people he hates cats," said Catsimatidis, apparently referring to his self-appointed "Cats" nickname.

"I have never said that, John!" said Lhota.

"We have thousands of cats, literally thousands of cats, that are in the subway system every single day, day and night, scurrying across the tracks," continued Lhota, the former head of the M.T.A. "And they don't get killed."