In 1998, I got to share some interesting moments with Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City who died recently.
He was out of office by then and had completed two books, Mayor and Politics, in which he regaled us younger politicians with anecdotes, political philosophy and juicy vignettes of life at the top of the municipal heap.
Being mayor of New York is like no other job in government; the blend of executive and legislative power and a budget bigger than some nations make the position unique.
The mayor even has a mansion to live in, equivalent in size to a typical governor’s mansion, but much more at the center of things. Money is power, and New York is host to a market in corporate stocks that is worth, at 14,000 points, a little over $20 trillion.
That is about a third of all the wealth produced in the entire planet in one year.
Koch ruled over the Big Apple with élan not seen since the days of Fiorello La Guardia. He understood that “hizzoner” could affect, with one public statement, the fate of presidencies and the course of federal legislative history.
Being a combination of a classic liberal on issues of social justice and a classic conservative on fiscal and moral discipline, he often flipped sides on matters of national importance.
One example was the savings-and-loan debacle, followed by federal bailout efforts that pumped billions of taxpayer dollars at the problem, ignoring the fact that banking is much like any other industry, and should generally not be bailed out by the taxpayers, when the corporate managers act in a foolhardy way.
Koch, along with a handful of other leaders (including me), argued that we should not set aside a huge pot of money with which to bail out banks; he argued, quite cogently, that the FDIC guarantee of the first $100,000 of deposits in any one account was more than enough to safeguard the savings of the great majority of Americans. As for those who stood to lose millions, either in deposits or stocks in the banks, that was the risk they undertook.
No bailing out foolish millionaires was the doctrine according to Koch.
And he was right, as we have seen from the more recent, inexplicable, immoral, and unnecessary trillion-dollar bailout of the investment banking industry, supported by both parties.
Koch also gave us a great example when he met with presidential candidate Ronald Reagan at City Hall. But as a good Democrat, he was expected to, and did support, Jimmy Carter in his reelection bid.
Yet Koch sensed that Reagan was a force of nature, a potential great president, who might be just what the West needed to withstand what then seemed to be the “inevitability” of Marxist communism, which Koch abhorred.
He met with the Republican nominee, and made no bones about it. Koch made clear the Reagan might become president, whether Koch supported him or not. Koch needed to tell him about New York City’s needs and get ready to work with him.
Koch was a giant for liberty. A giant for Israel. A giant for the principle that a city cannot be allowed to become lawless because we are afraid to enforce the law when challenged by radical elements who don’t share our ideology of human rights and democracy.
He was a walking, talking symbol of Tip O’Neill’s dictum: “All politics is local.”
Xavier L. Suarez, Miami-Dade County Commission, Miami