Mr Phillips claimed in an interview that the former GLC leader had been "arrogant and patronising" by offering his rival the role of deputy. In an attack that appeared calculated to raise his profile in the undeclared contest for Labour's shortlist, the black TV journalist told the BBC's Online website he was upset by the offer.
"All of us who come from ethnic minority communities get rather used to, and fed up of, any time we emerge on the public scene, people treating us as apprentices," he said.
"If he wants to be leader of a city where a third of the people are from ethnic minorities, I think he's going to have to be a little bit more sensitive, isn't he?"
He went on: "I have done a great many things in my life, I've worked in the private sector for most of it. I've been an executive in a FTSE 100 company. I've got my own business. So I really don't have to take lessons from anybody on how to run an organisation or how to lead."
Mr Phillips, who has in recent weeks hired a former Millbank spin-doctor to run his campaign full-time, said that he was prepared to give Mr Livingstone "the benefit of the doubt" and accept his remarks may have been a mistake.
The extent of the personality clash between the two men was underlined when Mr Livingstone made clear that he thought the charge of racism was "ridiculous".
"I hope Trevor's feeling better soon. I'm reminded of that wonderful saying of the Masai warriors, `The elephant never notices when the gnat bites its bum'," he said.
One of his supporters added: "Ken offered the job of deputy to Trevor not because he was black but because he is New Labour. We thought a balanced ticket was sensible. For anyone to accuse Ken of racism clearly hasn't seen his record on equalities over the years."
Mr Livingstone last week ruled out standing as an independent candidate for the post of Mayor in the Greater London Authority elections next May.
Mr Phillips, a close friend of Peter Mandelson, has been touted by his supporters as Millbank's favoured candidate for the Labour nomination.
But senior party sources have repeatedly made clear that no one candidate is being backed by either Downing Street or the party hierarchy.
The controversy yesterday coincided with the latest of a flurry of policy announcements by Mr Phillips. He told a council of local authorities conference, Tackling Disadvantage, that the Commission for Racial Equality should take an active role in confronting black under-achievement in schools.
He called on the commission to use the Lawrence Report to issue discrimination notices against schools that persistently and unreasonably excluded black pupils. "All the evidence in London points to the fact that, increasingly, Afro-Caribbean parents are willing to make sacrifices...," he said.
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