By STEFAN C. FRIEDMAN
April 30, 2005 -- Two of Fernando Ferrer's top political aides abruptly quit last night, in a move that spelled new trouble for his already-embattled campaign for mayor.
Chief media consultant David Axelrod and Chad Clanton, Ferrer's director of communications, resigned because Ferrer has refused to apologize for controversial — and politically damaging — comments he made about police shooting victim Amadou Diallo, according to some insiders.
Other sources said there was no single issue that drove Axelrod and Clanton to bolt — just a campaign that's been in reverse gear for nearly two months.
"It was much more general than Diallo or the stock transfer tax" that Ferrer recently proposed, one source said. "It's about where the campaign goes . . . and at the end of the day, it's [Ferrer's] name that's on the ballot."
The sudden departure of the senior campaign staffers comes just two days after a poll showed Ferrer had fallen behind Mayor Bloomberg for the first time, losing 20 points since he said in early March that the Diallo shooting was not a "crime."
The same Marist College survey also found that Ferrer's once-commanding lead in the four-way Democratic primary had evaporated and he was now locked in a statistical dead heat with Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields.
Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler said last night on NY1, "Ultimately, good consultants can't cover for a bad candidate."
The well-regarded Axelrod has a long association with Ferrer, having worked for him as chief strategist during his 2001 mayoral campaign. He more recently played a key role in John Edwards' presidential effort last year.
Clanton, a Texas native, joined the Ferrer team just three months ago after serving as a senior communications adviser to John Kerry's failed presidential bid.
The twin resignations leave the stumbling Ferrer campaign with two major staff vacancies at a time when the Democratic primary contest has been heating up.
One source at a rival campaign said it wouldn't make any difference who Ferrer hires to replace them.
"The shake-up is all well and good, but the guy who's the problem is still there" — meaning Ferrer, the source sneered.
In a brief statement, a Ferrer campaign spokeswoman, Jen Bluestein, cited "strategic differences" as the reason Axelrod and Clanton had left.
Reached for comment, the Chicago-based Axelrod stuck up for the former Bronx borough president, saying, "Freddy is my friend, and I think he'll still be the nominee. Sometimes, in a campaign, it's good to get different voices."
Axelrod refused to say whether he quit or was fired, although several sources said he walked out.
Asked if the Diallo flap had anything to do with the split, he said only that he wanted to make a "graceful" exit.
Axelrod and Clanton had been well paid by the Ferrer campaign. Axelrod was making $35,000 a month and Clanton was getting $15,000 a month.
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