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Gunfire Kills 2 in New York City Hall - 2003-07-23

Gunfire rang out at New York's City Hall Wednesday, taking the lives of two people, a City Council member and the gunman, a political rival. The shooting closed down lower Manhattan.

Almost two years after terrorist attacks shut down the tip of Manhattan for weeks, lower Manhattan was sealed off for hours, frightening area workers and residents. Bridges and neighboring streets were closed off, subway service was curtailed, and traffic was backed up for several kilometers as the scream of police sirens filled the air.

The shooting took place on the balcony of the City Council chambers as a meeting was about to begin. Police say a political rival, Othniel Askew, used a semiautomatic weapon to shoot and kill Councilman James Davis, a former police officer who founded a local anti-violence organization. A police officer then shot the gunman.

Council member David Weprin described the scene, saying "we heard what sounded like a big boom. Next thing we were told is immediately to duck. We ducked under our desks and there were about 20 to 30 shots, it sounded like, while we were under the desks."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg immediately assured New Yorkers that the shooting was an isolated event, not a terrorist act. The visibly shaken Mayor addressed the issue uppermost on every New Yorker's mind, how could someone with a gun go though metal detectors and security guards and enter City Hall, one of the most heavily secured buildings in the city, just a short walk from the site of the former World Trade Center?

"Someone who was an elected official of the city of New York has been killed and they have been killed right here in City Hall. What we know so far is the following. James Davis came into City Hall along with a Mr. Askew, who had file papers to run against James Davis in the next primary [election] this fall. They came in together. We have films of them walking in together. They went through the security booth but did not go through the magnetometer," he said. "Apparently the City Council members and the mayor have not been going through the magnetometer. The speaker and I have decided that effective immediately, he and I and everybody else will go through the magnetometers."

Councilman Davis was scheduled to introduce legislation against violence in the workplace during Wednesday's meeting.