Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater came under intense attack at the U.S. Conference of Mayors today, with New York's Democratic mayor denouncing him as "amoral" and a "pathological" liar.
Democratic National Chairman Ron Brown accused his Republican counterpart of having "taken politics to the lowest level of my lifetime."
"He may be the best hired gun in the world, but he carries with him all of the things that America hates, which is low-level, disgusting tactics . . . vile things," said New York Mayor Edward I. Koch.
Democrats took aim at Atwater one day after the Republican chairman startled some mayors with a speech Monday that was sharply partisan, saying he wanted to recruit black mayoral candidates to defeat Democrats and would try to establish a "political beachhead" in the cities by defeating Koch this year.
And he drew a ripple of reaction from the more than 200 mayors when he said mayors would be an "effective farm team" for the Republicans who could later run for governor, House and Senate seats.
'I Was Embarrassed'
Some members of Atwater's own party expressed regret over his remarks. The Republican mayor of Indianapolis, William Hudnut said, "I was embarrassed and disappointed."
The mayors usually try to submerge overt partisanship at their annual conferences. But it overshadowed other activities as they headed toward Wednesday's conclusion of their five-day meeting.
A Republican aide to Atwater attending the meeting, Marcy O'Boyle, said Atwater had no immediate comment. Atwater had told the mayors he was a "lightning rod" for partisan attacks.
Koch, arriving today, missed Atwater's remarks but unleashed his attack to reporters. Koch said "there's nothing wrong" with the Republican chairman trying to unseat him but said GOP mayors had told him they were embarrassed that Atwater used this forum.
And Koch then turned to the recent Republican National Committee memo that attacked new House Speaker Tom S. Foley with homosexual innuendo. An Atwater aide resigned over the controversy; Atwater denied having seen the memo before its release, and President Bush voiced his support.
'Political Oil Spill'
"When Lee Atwater, according to the President, comes into the President's office and looks him in the eye and says, 'I didn't do it,' when you have a person of the background and record of Lee Atwater, you know that they are pathological," Koch said.
"And someone who is capable of doing what he has done can lie with a lie detector, because they are amoral. That's the only word to describe it," Koch added.
Brown addressed the full gathering of more than 200 mayors and laced his remarks with a partisan strike at Atwater while lamenting the decline in federal spending on social problems under the Reagan Administration.