London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Friday faced the double ignominy of suspension from office and becoming liable for at least ?80,000 (US$136,000) in costs after a disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of bringing his position into disrepute by likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard.
More than a year after his late night confrontation with Oliver Finegold, a reporter for the London Evening Standard newspaper, Livingstone was told he must stand down for a month from March 1 for his "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" behavior towards the journalist.
But the ruling triggered a constitutional row as Livingstone's allies and independent observers railed against the idea of a politician with the biggest personal mandate in Europe being deposed, albeit temporarily, by unelected officials.
The decision to suspend Livingstone, who was elected with sizeable majorities in 2000 and 2004, was taken by the Adjudication Panel, the UK government body which deals with serious disciplinary cases involving local government.
"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law," Livingstone said.
"Three members of a body that no one has ever elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners," he said.
He said he will decide next week whether to challenge the decision at the high court.
David Laverick, chairman of the disciplinary panel to which the matter was referred, said the punishment was solely at his panel's discretion.
He concluded: "The mayor does seem to have failed, from the outset of this case, to have appreciated that his conduct was unacceptable, was a breach of the code [the Greater London Authority code of conduct] and did damage to the reputation of his office ... it is the mayor who must take responsibility for this."
The ruling was welcomed by the London Jewish Forum. Its chairman, Adrian Cohen, said: "It should never have reached this point when a simple apology could have avoided all the pain caused to so many Jewish Londoners who have been affected by the Holocaust."
The incident occurred last February as Livingstone left a party marking the 20 years since former UK culture secretary Chris Smith became Britain's first openly gay MP. In a tape-recorded exchange, he asked Finegold whether he had ever been a "German war criminal."
On being told that the reporter objected to the remark and was Jewish, the mayor said: "Ah, well you might be but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?"