Op-Ed: Ed Koch on Bloomberg’s Handling of the Goldsmith Scandal

September 12, 2011 at 6:00 am

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch weighs in on how Mayor Bloomberg has handled the resignation of Deputy mayor Stephen Goldsmith. Photo by Shmuel Thaler.

There has been a major brouhaha concerning the way Mayor Michael Bloomberg terminated the service of Stephen Goldsmith, who was New York City’s  Deputy Mayor of Operations.

Upon learning that Goldsmith was arrested in Washington, D.C. and held for two days in jail — allegedly for engaging in domestic violence against his wife, who also allegedly at the time said, “I should have put a bullet through you years ago”  — the mayor conferred with the deputy mayor, subsequently announcing in a press release that Goldsmith was “leaving to pursue private-sector opportunities in infrastructure finance.”

The mayor made no mention of the arrest and domestic violence incident.

Several city officials, e.g. Borough President Scott Stringer, said he was “very troubled that his information was purposely withheld from the public,” and “…it’s absolutely unacceptable to conceal a set of circumstances like this.” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said that Bloomberg “lied to the people.”

When I came into office in 1978, I immediately announced to the press that there were two situations when I reserved the right not to tell them the truth.

My own opinion is that while the mayor was naïve in thinking the arrest and two days in jail would not become public, he tried to do what I always believed should be done when you are terminating the service of a city employee who you personally brought into a position in government who has not committed a corrupt act in carrying out his duties of office.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, introduces Stephen Goldsmith as his new chief deputy for operations on April 30, 2010. When Goldsmith resigned in 2011, Bloomberg said he was leaving to pursue private sector opportunities. AP Photo/Office of the Mayor, Ed Reed

When I came into office in 1978, I immediately announced to the press that there were two situations when I reserved the right not to tell them the truth. One, when an otherwise decent person — not corrupt but carrying out their duties incompetently — was to be fired, I would not harm their future employment opportunities by revealing the incompetence. Rather, I’d state they were retiring to rejoin their family for a closer relationship or were exploring other employment opportunities. It is difficult to bring first-rate people into high public office because they are compelled to give up so much of their personal privacy. I did not think I should add to their burdens by shaming them under such circumstances.

The second obfuscation I allowed myself was to say to someone who had cancer, “No, you don’t have cancer; it’s a heavy cold.” Remember, this was back in the days of 1978, when the Big C was not honestly discussed as it is today.

In the case of Goldmsith, because the jail incident would eventually come out, I would have asked the deputy mayor to join me in the Blue Room and say, “Because of a personal matter involving my wife, which embarrasses me, which might embarrass the city and which I prefer not to discuss, I have told the mayor that I am resigning.”

As mayor, I would have responded, “Thank you for your service.  I am sorry for your troubles,  I wish you well.” I would have ended the conference with no questions taken. After that, it would have been up to the press to look into the matter.

Goldsmith has not been convicted of anything.  It is a family dispute. And it is not your usual husband-hits-wife from what I’ve read, not that I would accept that or think that what he did by pushing her is acceptable, if that is what he did.  But it is not public corruption. If it were a case of corruption, I would have said he was corrupt and turned it over to the district attorney.

I think New York City has a truly great mayor in Michael Bloomberg.  He has taken us through difficult days and kept the city afloat. We are in far better condition than most other cities and states.  Most importantly, he is a compassionate, intelligent and decent human being.

Edward Irving Koch served three terms as the mayor of New York City, from 1978 to 1989. From 1969 to 1977, he was part of the New York delegation to the United States House of Representatives. Prior to that, he served two years as a member of the New York City Council.

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