Two die in shootings at New York's City Hall

By Christopher Grimes in New York

Gunfire erupted yesterday in New York's City Hall, killing a councilman and a political rival and shattering a sense of heightened security in one of the city's most heavily guarded buildings.

The shooting, only blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, killed James Davis, 41, a city council member from Brooklyn.

Police said Mr. Davis was shot by Othniel Askew, a 81-year-old man who was challenging him for the Democratic party nomination in a forthcoming election. According to reports, both men were armed at the time of the shooting.

"I've had some tough days in my life, and some tough days in City Hall, but never one as tough as this," Michael Bloomberg, New York City's mayor, told a press conference.

Police reports indicated that Mr Davis had escorted Mr Askew into the building, both men bypassing metal detectors, as elected officials have been allowed to do.

Witnesses saw the two men talking near the railing of a balcony in the building's second-floor rotunda, where the city council had convened.

During their conversation, Mr Askew reportedly drew his gun and shot Mr Davis repeatedly in the chest, sending frightened city council members diving for cover.

A New York police officer below the balcony who saw the incident then shot Mr Askew several times. Witnesses said Mr Davis did not draw his gun.

Mr Davis, a former New York City police officer, was the founder of a group set up to curb urban violence.

Mr Bloomberg, who had been elsewhere in the building at the time, said that - with immediate effect - all visitors to City Hall, including elected officials, would have to pass through the metal detectors.

"I don't know why people carry guns. Guns kill people, " he said.

July 24, 2003