Candidate Speaks Out About City Hall Murder

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The third candidate in a Brooklyn council race that turned deadly at City Hall this week said Friday that Othniel Askew sounded frenzied in the weeks leading up 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 on the morning of the shooting, urging him to drop out of the Democratic primary race and saying "this is the last time we can make something happen."

"He was very perturbed," Herbert said in an interview.

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

The calls reported by 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 Davis had offered him a $45,000 payoff and threatened to expose him as gay if he did not drop his council challenge, 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 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 made earlier this summer, 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 (search) Friday that two unsigned letters were found on Askew's body. Police do not know the author yet -- or whether Askew wrote them himself. One letter claims to have Davis thanking Askew effusively for deciding not to run against him.

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 that contained instructions on where to find certain documents. It was not a suicide note, the source said.

Also Friday, the Bloomberg administration said new security measures will not curtail public access to City Hall. After the shooting, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) terminated a City Hall policy that allowed elected officials, including the mayor, to bypass the building's metal detectors.

Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray 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.

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 Giuliani, including after the World Trade Center attack (search). 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," 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."

Later, Ed Skyler, the mayor's spokesman, said public access to the landmark building will not change for now. The building hosts public hearings, City Council meetings and visitor tours.

Kelly is conducting a review of security at the building.

The police department on Friday released a blurry, halting videotape of Davis and Askew entering City Hall together. On the tape, a man who appears to be Davis greets people with broad gestures inside and outside the building as a man who appears to be Askew walks alongside. There is no footage of the two men passing the metal detector or the shooting.

In an incident unrelated to Davis' death, police on Friday arrested a man for threatening to shoot and kill City Councilman Hiram Monserrate. The threats were made over the telephone and once in person, to a Monserrate aide.

On Saturday, a memorial rally for Davis is scheduled in Brooklyn. Davis' chief of staff, Janet Minto, said in a statement: "We are proud of the legacy of Councilman James E. Davis. He loved his district, the city of New York and all people."

Davis' funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Brooklyn. His body will lie in state at City Hall on Monday afternoon.