- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — The third candidate in a political campaign that turned deadly this week at City Hall said yesterday that gunman Othniel Askew sounded frenzied in the weeks leading to the shooting, at one point asking him: “Are you ready to die for this seat?”

Tony Herbert also said Askew called him at least four times the morning of the shooting, urging him to drop out of the Democratic primary and saying, “This is the last time we can make something happen.”

“He was very perturbed,” Mr. Herbert said in an interview.

Askew gunned down Councilman James Davis in the balcony of the City Council chambers Wednesday, just moments after Mr. Davis escorted him into City Hall as a guest, bypassing metal detectors. A police officer fatally shot Askew moments later.

The calls reported by Mr. Herbert further paint Askew as a man growing desperate in the hours before the shooting. Askew also called the FBI Wednesday morning to claim that Mr. Davis had offered him a $45,000 payoff and threatened to expose him as homosexual if he did not drop his challenge for Mr. Davis’ council seat, law enforcement sources said. Those claims have not been corroborated.

Askew’s status in the race seemed ever-changing. He had filed preliminary papers to run against Mr. Davis in the Democratic primary, but he did not file signatures to formally enter the race. Yet a day before the shooting, he still called himself a candidate in a television interview.

During another call earlier this summer, Mr. Herbert said Askew asked him: “‘Tony, are you ready to die for this seat?’ I thought that he meant that I was going to go out and lose weight and really work hard. Now that I think about it, he was giving me the signal right there and I thought he was playing. He was just more and more obsessed that this was his seat.”

A law enforcement source told the Associated Press yesterday that two unsigned letters were found on Askew’s body. Police do not know the author, and it’s possible Askew might have written them himself. In one letter, Mr. Davis apparently thanks Askew effusively for deciding not to run.

A search of Askew’s house, the source said, turned up a will that was several years old.

Police also found a note stapled to the will containing instructions on where to find certain documents. It was not a suicide note, the source said.

After the shooting, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg terminated a City Hall policy that allowed elected officials, including the mayor, to bypass the building’s metal detectors.

Mr. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly also ordered officers assigned to City Hall to turn away anyone with firearms except on-duty law enforcement officers. The directive closes an exemption that had allowed retired police officers and others with gun permits to enter the building with their weapons.

Mr. Davis, a former police officer, had a holstered weapon of his own Wednesday, but did not draw the weapon.

The mayor said he would not order City Hall steps to be closed to the public, as they were several times during the administration of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, including after the World Trade Center attack. The steps are a traditional site for protests and press conferences.

“We have to balance security with the right to privacy and the right to go about our business,” Mr. Bloomberg said during his weekly radio show. “City Hall is owned by the public. It’s not the mayor’s building; it’s not the City Council’s building. It’s the public’s building.”

A memorial rally for Mr. Davis is scheduled for today in Brooklyn, where he lived.

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