The accusation set off a slew of "he said/he said" reports in the press, with Bloomberg and his aides denying the claim while the former councilman stuck to his story that he was offered a $144,000-a-year job with the mayor's re-election campaign. Ognibene, 61, said he was baffled when Bloomberg's top campaign strategist, Keven Sheekey, made the offer during a 15-minute sitdown in a Manhattan Starbucks on Jan. 13. "These people didn't even speak to me for 3 1/2 years," Ognibene said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "At first they offered a job to help do petitions and then changed it to downstate czar of the Republican party."Ognibene said the timing made the offer suspect. "I just thought it was like nonsense," he said. "Can you imagine just anybody walking up to you out of the blue and offering you $144,000 for a non-existent job? Would you concede that there had to be a reason to it?"Ognibene said he left the meeting without accepting or declining the job. Bloomberg told reporters during a news conference at Staten Island Technical High School Tuesday that his people were unaware of Ognibene's design's on the mayorship during the meeting."I think my campaign did approach him to see if he would want to become involved in the campaign," Bloomberg said. "Two days later we read in the paper that he was running and we had no further contact with him."And even if they did know that Ognibene was running for mayor, Bloomberg said there was nothing illegal about offering "somebody a job to get them not to run.""You recruit people all the time," he said. Ognibene said last year that he would challenge Bloomberg in the primary, but he decided to pull out of the race without raising any money when his wife fell ill. But she urged him to throw his hat back in the ring after he became energized while working for the re-election of President Bush late last year. "She said this is what you're really all about," Ognibene recalled. She told him he should re-enter politics saying: "If that's what you want to do, why don't you go ahead and do it."He said the back and forth with the mayor reminded him of his days representing Middle Village for a decade in the City Council, where he served as minority leader until he was forced to step down by term limits."It's obvious that I'm back in it," he said. Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@times
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