By Anjali Athavaley and Melissa Fares
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ted Cruz - be careful who you mess with.
Never shy in defense of their city, New Yorkers came out swinging - via social and traditional media - on Friday after the Texas Republican's comments about "New York values" during a presidential debate.
Cruz's remarks, aimed as a put-down of campaign rival Donald Trump during Thursday evening's sour-toned Republican debate, sparked a backlash from city and upstate dwellers, politicians and ordinary citizens alike.
James Smith, husband of Moira Smith, a New York police officer who was killed on 9/11, wrote in a Facebook post: "I invite you to come to the National 9-11 Memorial and Museum and see for yourself, and perhaps learn something about, the values of New Yorkers and the Heroes who defended American values on September 11th, 2001."
One theme emerged in particular as New Yorkers piled in: the idea that the senator may be less fastidious when it comes to financing his campaign to be his party's nominee for the November presidential election.
"I’m sure Ted Cruz was very negative about New York money," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan, calling on Cruz to apologize to all New Yorkers.
"I’m sure he’s not going to accept any money from any New Yorker. I’m sure if he has, he’s going to return all of those contributions," said Cuomo, a Democrat.
Cruz, top challenger to front-runner Trump in the Republican race, has lately been denouncing "New York values" to try to connect the real estate mogul to the city's liberalism and to reinforce his own standing as a conservative.
During Thursday evening's debate, Cruz said on the values issue, "And listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York. But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media."
Trump responded with an emotional tribute to the resilience his home city showed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
According to Twitter Inc data, that exchange between Cruz and Trump was the second-most tweeted moment during the debate.
Among tweets shared on Friday was the cover of the New York Daily News, which curtly told Cruz: "Drop Dead, Ted."
Michael Bruno (@MikeJBruno) tweeted on Friday: “@tedcruz you, sir, wouldn’t last 2 minutes in New York. We don’t take kindly to people like you. And that’s our #NewYorkValues.”
Nicholas Dyer (@NicholasDDyer), who identifies himself as a Comedy Central producer on Twitter, said: "@tedcruz is the kind of guy who takes his family to the Times Square Applebee's for dinner. #NewYorkValues." He was referring scathingly to a chain restaurant that is normally filled with tourists from out of town.
'TOLERANCE, ECCENTRICITY, SLEAZE...'
"My #NewYorkValues: Tolerance, eccentricity, sleaze, pizza, bagels, dancing, not making eye contact," tweeted Lindsay Goldwert (@lindsaygoldwert).
Many on Twitter perceived Cruz as having targeted the city's Jewish and gay communities.
Zack Ford (@ZackFord), the LGBT editor at the progressive blog Think Progress, tweeted, "So...#NewYorkValues...Do you just pick a state you know you probably won't win and belittle everyone from it?" He added, "Cruz knows Trump's not Jewish, right?"
Cameron Gray (@Cameron_Gray) said, "As a Jewish conservative born in Brooklyn, I proudly have #NewYorkValues.
Some local businesses piggybacked the theme to advertise.
Drama Book Shop, a theater book store in midtown Manhattan, tweeted: "The #DramaBookShop is proud to have had #NewYorkValues for 99 years."
Others sought to distinguish the politics of the city, which is liberal and overwhelmingly votes Democratic in presidential elections, from the rest of the state.
Josephine (@notmyname02) said on Twitter, "Unshackle Upstate New York. We have nothing to do with New York City values. We have mid-West values. #NewYorkValues."
To be sure, some thought the backlash against Cruz was not warranted.
Wesley23 (@50th_President) tweeted: "I still think people are overreacting to #TedCruz and his #NewYorkValues line. He clearly meant it was a blue (Democratic) state (and) not very conservative."
It appeared that neither Cruz nor Trump may have benefited from the exchange.
Overall, conversations about the Republican candidates during the debate were negative on social media, according to analytics firm Zoomph.
(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Dan Burns, Frances Kerry and Andrew Hay)