Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/4/2013 12:33 PM | Comments: 0
He was irascible. He was impetuous but shrewd. He was colorful, outrageous, sometimes vindictive, and larger than life in his playfulness, his enthusiasm, his boundless energy. In a city whose previous mayors had left office exhausted and spent, he commanded public attention and wielded political power for nearly half a century.
I worked with Ed Koch when I was state budget director and then head of the Port Authority. He was not an easy character to deal with. But he was always fair, always listened, and always took my ideas seriously — probably in part because I didn’t report to him, so he couldn’t tell me what to do.
Koch is widely credited with returning New York City to fiscal health after its disastrous near-bankruptcy of 1975. He deserves a lot of credit in the fiscal area — but not for what he is normally praised for. The city was already solidly back on a responsible financial course when Koch took office in 1978. His enormous achievement was to keep it on track for 12 years, all three of his terms. More important, he built and maintained public support for that course, which has served the city well to the present day.
Did he have weaknesses? You bet. He neglected the long-term economic-development challenges that faced the city, which might have included opening up the waterfront, shoring up the dwindling manufacturing sector, or investing in a large, multi-year capital infrastructure program to generate jobs and make the city’s economy more competitive.
On the plus side, he appointed good people and let them do their jobs. People like Nat Leventhal, Stan Brezenoff, Gordon Davis, Bob Wagner Jr., Herb Sturz, Norman Steisel and scores of others were among the best professionals New York public service, local or state, has ever known. A mayor doesn’t get many headlines or much love for appointing first-rate people, but it has an awful lot to do with how effective and how honest his administration is.
Koch’s performance in the arena of race relations was more pivotal than is recognized. As with the fiscal area, the real story is not quite the way it has been popularized.
In the third quarter of the 20th century there were two giants in New York City public life — John Lindsay, for whom I worked, and Koch, with whom I worked. They detested each other. But sandwiched around the pale and disastrous one-termer Abe Beame, they together made the city a fair and progressive place that afforded room and opportunity to anyone who wanted to "make it there," as Frank Sinatra used to sing. Lindsay opened up a city whose unions, housing, school enrollment and employment patterns were still highly segregated, and he championed powerfully and sometimes shrilly the rights of minorities to participate in governing the city and enjoy the fruits of its economic enterprise.
Koch emphasized the rights of everyone, powerfully and sometimes shrilly, but especially the white middle class, which he didn’t want to be marginalized or hurt economically as the city adjusted to a much broader and fairer acceptance of all the groups who lived here. Yet Koch did not retreat one inch from the gains minorities had made during the civil rights movement and the Lindsay years; on the contrary, he quietly and staunchly defended them. Koch locked in both the sound financial practices necessary for the city to succeed and the modern, open attitudes on race and differences that have made New York City a beacon for the nation and the world.
We will miss you, Edward Irving Koch — for all that you accomplished and all that you stood for. But above all for your wit, your irreverence, your nerve and tenacity on the big issues, and your willingness to take on any myth, any shibboleth, any stuffed shirt. Any time, anywhere.
Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State, is a member of the state budget crisis task force.
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Assumptions about foreign intervention dangerous
Hostages to conflict, political blindness
New flood realities demand long-term solutions
Simple outrage won’t end Gaza conflict
Privacy views key to German hurt over U.S. spying
Missteps prove Putin is no master strategist
Repurpose pay phones for truly public Wi-Fi
American intelligence lacks smarts
False comparisons don't serve health-care analysis
Cynical Egypt unlikely to mediate Israel conflict
Proposal to split up California stupid, self-serving
Time for West to stand up against Russian president
Council ripe for third-party rule?
PST court challenge was risky political ruse
Cut the bull on animal treatment rationalizations
Fear drives young Central American migrants
Difficult to get true picture of crash site
Time for open discussion of nanoparticles in our food
Gun deaths overtaking vehicle deaths south of border
Hope in short supply around Lake Manitoba
Downing of jet makes Ukraine conflict uglier, unavoidable
Impossible to argue away collateral damage
Tsilhqot'in ruling raises questions in Atlantic Canada
One-child policy casts long shadow
Carbon tax fight politically costly down under
Big oil gambles on high prices, lack of regulation
Merchants of death facing hard times
Prospects for independence
Tightly controlled Morocco turmoil-free, for now
Israel, Hamas: perversely codependent
Clinton book-tour missteps could point to weaknesses
'Blood of martyrs' the only endgame for nihilistic Hamas
Flood recovery initiatives need better oversight
Young radicals wooed by false picture of jihad
Sanctions against Russia are toothless
Russian propaganda machine struggling
Chinese crash would dwarf 2008 collapse
No military solution for Gaza