City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has hit back after an Essex MP branded some of the contenders for the UK 2017 City of Culture crown "absolute dumps".
Tory MP David Amess, 60, is backing his home town of Southend-on-Sea to win the title and took to the airwaves to give a radio interview about its rivals, including Leicester.
Mr Amess said many of the cities hoping to win the title "wouldn't know culture if it was put in front of them".
He said: "I have looked at some of the competition and frankly they are absolute dumps, some of them."
Mr Amess, who represents Southend West, said the town had been "under-rated".
Sir Peter chairs a consortium putting together Leicester's bid to succeed Derry, in Northern Ireland, the current holder of the title.
The former Labour MP for Leicester South said: "I'm not sure if someone from Southend should be making that kind of comment about other cities. Somebody once remarked to me they had been to Southend and, even after three washes, could not get the smell of mud and fish out of their clothes.
"I once, for charity, walked from Southend to London. We left at midnight but I am assured that was the best time to see it."
Mr Amess, an MP for more than 30 years, said: "'Dump' is, of course, quite a strong word but I was being entirely tongue in cheek.
"What I would say is let battle commence! Of course, I think Southend will have the best bid.
"I did go to Leicester many, many years ago to Grace Road to watch some cricket. It was a lovely ground but frankly I don't remember much else about the city.
"I do think it is absolutely fantastic you've found Richard III – even if you concreted over him.
"I think you should have Keith (Vaz) leading your bid with his karaoke. Grease, wasn't it? Keith is a great friend of mine but I almost fell off my seat when I saw him singing."
Other contenders include Chester, Hull, Swansea Bay, Plymouth, Aberdeen, East Kent, Dundee, Portsmouth and Southampton and Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea.
Pensioner Jan Leatherland, 65, from Aylestone, said: "I think it's extremely shortsighted to call anywhere a dump. If you look hard enough there are hidden cultural gems in almost every town and city.
"Leicester's might be a bit hard to spot to an outsider, but this is a chance to show them off."
All 11 areas must submit their bids by the end of April.
An independent panel will decide on a shortlist before the winner is announced in November. It is anticipated the victorious city will see a huge boost to its economy from extra visitors and tourists.