It was the most effective - and clearly cynical - strategy employed in Philadelphia politics in decades.

"Republicans did it," went the claim from Mayor John F. Street's 2003 reelection campaign, suggesting that an FBI listening device discovered in his City Hall office was a GOP political dirty trick.

Frank Keel, a political consultant who calls developing that strategy for Street the "defining moment" of his career, sued David Axelrod on Tuesday for taking the credit in his new memoir, Believer, My 40 Years in Politics.

Axelrod, chief strategist for President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, stands by his account.

In a statement Wednesday, Axelrod said Keel did not participate in the strategic conversation with a Street campaign official described in the book.

Axelrod also said his book does not suggest "that others in the campaign could not have arrived at the same conclusion or proceeded on parallel tracks" for strategy.

Keel also sued Penguin Random House, Axelrod's publisher. The firm dismissed Keel's claims as "utterly absurd."

The suit, filed by attorney George Bochetto, said blaming the bug on then-President George W. Bush's Republican administration, "became a defining moment for Keel's career; his brazen and successful handling of the crisis launched Keel to the forefront of his profession."

Axelrod, the suit claims, "could not be reached throughout the day" on Oct. 7, 2003, when the bug was discovered. The suit also says Axelrod initially opposed Keel's strategy when he first heard it.

Shawn Fordham, Street's 2003 campaign manager, supports Keel's version of events in a statement as part of the suit. Fordham said Axelrod eventually "got on board" and called Keel a "hero."

Axelrod's book describes the FBI bug as a problem and opportunity.

He said he told Street's campaign to "hold a news conference on the steps of City Hall and accuse [then-U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft of trying to steal this election."

Street held a news conference just hours after the bug was found but didn't use any of Axelrod's lines that day. Street started incorporating some of the advice Axelrod described after Keel began pushing the "Republicans did it" line the next day.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973 @byChrisBrennan