PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Democratic tactician David Axelrod is stealing credit for one of the most successful party counterattacks in modern urban politics, former Philadelphia Mayor John Street's political strategist claims in Federal Court.
Frank Keel brought the complaint Tuesday against the Chicago-based Axelrod whose new autobiography, "Believer - My Forty Years in Politics," was published last month by Penguin Random House.
In the memoir, Axelrod, who most notably advised both of President Barack Obama's campaigns, claims in that it was he, not Keel, who maneuvered around news in 2003 that the FBI had planted a bug in Street's office one month until the mayoral election.
The "Republicans Did It" parry, in which Street accused the Bush administration of attempting to sabotage his re-election by leaking news of the bug, quickly ensured Street's victory and painted the embroiled mayor as a victim of a Republican administration unpopular in the majority Democratic city.
One year later, the Justice Department charged 12 individuals, including City Treasurer Corey Kemp, with bribery.
Describing himself in the complaint as "a tough, no nonsense public relations specialist," Keel claims to have devised the strategy shortly after news of the bug leaked.
He claims he told Street campaign manager Shawn Fordham that the Street campaign "publically describe the bug as originating at the highest levels of the Bush Administration and design to put a Republican Mayor in City Hall and potentially swing both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the 2004 presidential election to President Bush."
Noting that he was Street's media consultant in both of his mayoral races, Axelrod denied the allegations.
"I stand by every word I wrote in my book and nothing in this lawsuit impeaches my very clear recollections or public statements at the time," the strategist said in a statement.
In "Believer," Alexrod wrote that he received a call from George Burrell, a senior adviser to Street, telling him, "We have a problem."
Axelrod wrote that, after Burrell debriefed him on the situation, Alexrod called back and told Burrell, "We need to hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall and accuse John Ashcroft of trying to steal this election."
Though Keel claims that neither Axelrod nor Penguin called Burrell to verify the book's account of those events, Axelrod dismissed Keel as "someone who is not mentioned in my book and who was not a party to my conversations and could not know what was said."
Axelrod also emphasized how the reaction to the bug aligned with "the central strategy of the ads I produced and ran throughout the fall of 2003."
"Five days before the discovery of the bug, I told the Baltimore Sun, 'Karl Rove and the Republicans would love to wrest City Hall away. In a state so closely divided, anything that gives you an edge can tip the balance,'" Axelrod noted.
"So it was hardly a leap for me to suggest, when I learned of the bug, that the campaign go on the offensive and paint it and the timing of the federal probe as politically-motivated, which they did," Axelrod's statement continues.
Penguin Random House meanwhile slammed Keel for his "utterly absurd" claim to deserve credit for a piece of campaign advice that Mayor Street received 12 years ago.
"We stand behind David Axelrod and his book," the publisher said in a statement.
The complaint alleges that Axelrod's appropriation of the strategy is an attempt to outcompete Keel in the political-consulting business.
Keel claims violations of the Lanham Act and common-law unfair competition. He is represented by George Bochetto of Bochetto & Lentz.
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