Chartock v. Koch just starting to get fun
My fun war with Ed Koch continues. Some time ago, July 26, 2006 to be precise, I was doing a live public radio broadcast from Lincoln Center. Former New York City Mayor Ed “How’m I Doing?” Koch was a guest on the show. Mayor Ed and I go way back. He just doesn’t know it. In a graduate course I was teaching, a union official told a story indicating that Koch was a homosexual and that Cuomo wouldn’t use such material in his campaign. You get the picture. Cuomo was a good guy, Koch was a homosexual. During that same campaign, signs were appearing saying, “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo.” I got blamed by the Cuomos.
Mario Cuomo, with whom I had a long, long radio relationship that led to a book, never forgot that I once wrote a column called “Meet Governor Koch” when the two of them were contesting for the New York governor’s job. A playful Cuomo once told me that he kept it in his top drawer.
Now Koch is running something called “New York Uprising,” an important organization that calls for reform of state government and asks candidates for state office to sign a petition calling for new ethical standards. He’s right about that. I’ve been in favor of that for a long, long time and working assiduously to bring about that change. I started a newspaper, The Legislative Gazette, that would tell the story of the goings on in the Legislature. I developed one of the first modern internships in the state Legislature to show the students just how down and dirty things were. I’ve written hundreds of columns about the doings of the denizens of the legislative deep. I’ve been outspoken on the issue on radio and TV. For his part, Koch, once a congressman who benefitted from the way in which the congressional district lines were drawn, is now outraged at that process.
That long ago day at Lincoln Center, he and I got into a spat over his support for the Iraq war. I asked the retired mayor how he could have supported, and continued to support, the ridiculous war in Iraq. He gave his usual spirited defense of the stupid move on Bush’s part. In fact, he sounded very much like a Bush partisan. I distinctly remember that we traded verbal blows over what turned out to be the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” You remember those, don’t you? I pointed out that even the president admitted that he was operating on bad information and Koch responded, “He shouldn’t have said that.” Some reformer.
Fast forward to current times. I was interviewing Blair Horner, one of the true heroes of government reform. When Horner mentioned Koch, I blurted out, “We’ve got that phony Ed Koch running all over New York state. This was the same guy who was all for going into Iraq.”
Well, Mayor Ed heard the show and took great exception to that characterization. “Your reference to my past support in 2003 for the initial invasion of Iraq has no bearing whatsoever on reforming Albany,” he wrote in a letter to me.
Of course it does. It goes to character. He’s right about reforming Albany and I’m glad that he’s joined me in that endeavor. But suggesting that his support was for the “original” invasion doesn’t go to the point that he was still supporting the war in 2006.
The two concepts may not be connected at the hip but let’s just remember that a man who once was the hope of the reformers who elected him later turned out to be a dyed-in-the wool Bushite on foreign policy. Hey, it doesn’t take a lot of guts to harness public frustration with the Legislature.
Anyway, Koch wrote me back saying one had nothing to do with the other. He was feeling badly because I had used such a strong word: “phony.” I wrote a short note back to him telling him, “Despite your unhappiness with my characterization, I find it very hard not to like you.” I also reminded him that we were in agreement on the Albany reform. He wrote back, saying that he hoped my letter meant that I had recanted my description of him as a “phony.” I may be sorry that I used the word — it is a bit harsh — but hey, if the shoe fits, wear it. On the other hand, I still have to like the guy. Our fight is now all over the blogs. Like I said, it’s beginning to be fun.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 9/7/10