GUEST: Ed Koch
AIR DATE: 01/30/10
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind.
And the other day I was looking back at the near twenty Open Mind conversations I’ve aired over the years with my guest today.
You can, too, of course. Just go to www.theopenmind.tv …
then search among the hundreds and hundreds of our Open Mind guests for “Hizzoner”, the Mayor, Ed Koch. And you’ll find one of the most extraordinarily energetic, charismatic and devoted men ever to preside over the destinies of Our Town, the Big Apple ….
Now I’ve titled this program “How’m I doin’?” for that’s the way most New Yorkers remember their peripatetic and often quite controversial Mayor, always wanting to know whether he was doing it right … and most of us thought that most of the times he was.
Indeed, we elected him to serve three terms in the job many describe as the second hardest in the nation, second only to the Presidency.
Now, my guest and I, of course, are contemporaries, both long in the tooth, sagging in many other places and ready to spin long and tall tales about the past … which we share.
But the Open Mind conversation we had together that I remember most vividly came nearly a quarter century ago. It was on September 12th, 1987. Ed had suffered a stroke; we had all worried greatly about him; and when he joined me on the air once again, I titled our program, “On Intimations of Mortality”.
It was a doozy; papers picked it up all over the country … and I guess I should begin today by asking my quest if he remembers it, too.
KOCH: I do, very well, and you asked me at the time if I had an epitaph …
HEFFNER: (Laughter) Right.
KOCH: And I made one up at the spur of the moment which is now on my tombstone. I’ve actually purchased a tombstone and a cemetery plot in Manhattan in the only cemetery that is operating. It happens to be non-denominational, but owned by Trinity Church and I thought it’d be nice to have one … cemetery plot … on a subway line so that …
KOCH: … people could come and visit it and it would be easy.
HEFFNER: Ahh, well … I can’t join you, but I am so impressed you said, “Okay, let’s see”, and I’m reading from the transcript … what you wanted was “he was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith, he fiercely defended the City of New York and he fiercely loved the people of the City of New York”.
KOCH: And I added a line subsequent to that, that’s on the stone, which goes something like “And he’s especially grateful to the United States for all that it gave to him in whose Armed Services he served in World War II”.
HEFFNER: Good for you. Good for you. And now … the future. I mean that’s gonna come …
HEFFNER: … decades and decades from now. What are you, what are you feeling about how we’re doing now?
KOCH: Sure. Well, first thing … it won’t come decades from now … it’ll probably come in five or six years. I mean … I’m 85 … just celebrated my birthday. I don’t want to live past the point where I can take care of myself and I have all my marbles. And I think, as I get close to 90 that’s probably the end of the race.
HEFFNER: That’s not bad. I’ve thought about 90, too. But let’s, let’s focus on … if we were talking about our nation …
HEFFNER: … and our city.
KOCH: Sure. How we doing?
HEFFNER: How we doing?
KOCH: Well, I think we are fortunate to have a superb Mayor, Mayor Bloomberg and he’s handling things very well.
I worry about whether or not we have, as a nation, the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Islamic terrorism. Those people take joy in dying. We take joy in living.
And the question is whether those who love life can defeat those who love death. Because that’s the enemy. That’s actually the enemy.
And I believe that we’re in for a 30 year war or more with Islamic terrorism. They want to kill Christians, Jews, Hindus … we’re the Infidel and we have to have the ability, the willingness to stand up and fight them.
HEFFNER: You have some question about whether we do.
KOCH: I do have a question about it. Whether or not we will ultimately say “Well, maybe, you know, the old line that in World War II and subsequent … ‘better red than dead’ which was a terrible refrain.” It meant an unwillingness to stand up … we won that war …the Cold War as well … by our resoluteness and Reagan and Pope John Paul the Second …the two of them won that war … the Cold War.
World War II is, is interesting. We obviously we were very, very important, but the ones who gave the most blood were the Russians.
They gave the lives of ten million Soviet soldiers. I just happen to have seen the Russian Ambassador and I congratulated him and said, “We owe …the world owes you a great deal”. They lost about 26 million civilians, 10 million soldiers, 300,000 died taking Berlin.
Without the Russians, or the Soviets then … we could not have won World War II.
HEFFNER: And then came the Cold War.
KOCH: And then came the Cold War. It’s a pity that we allowed a great opportunity after the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down … we should have reached out and sought a close partnership with the Russians.
Instead we denigrated them and made them feel second rate after they had been one of the two great powers … we being the other.
And I hope that has changed to some extent under President Obama. I think it has. Because it’s in the interest of the world and world peace. Because there are rogue countries out there … Iran and North Korea and I’m sure there are others as well. And the two countries, if they stand together … can make the most contribution toward peace are our two and China as well.
China … it’s incredible (laugh). That China is now our banker. (Laughter) Incredible.
HEFFNER: Much to the chagrin of a number of people.
KOCH: And a danger. I mean … what happens when they suddenly say, “Well, unless you change your foreign policy, we not going to give you another nickel?” (Laughter)
HEFFNER: Of course we’ve said that a number of times …
HEFFNER: … down the road, too.
KOCH: Yes, of course, of course. And I, I’m not saying that it’s evil of them to say it. I’m saying it’s dangerous for us … for them to say it and do it.
HEFFNER: How do you think the President … Obama … is doing?
KOCH: Well, it’s interesting, you know. I go to a lot of private dinners of a dozen people or so. And the word most used is “disappointment”. Disappointment that he hasn’t been able to be as effective as we all hoped he would be.
I don’t think anyone who supported him …and I certainly did, and campaigned for him in a number of states … has left him. But they’re disappointed. They’re disappointed in the way he is handling long term medical care and universal medical care. That he hasn’t been as effective as he should. And other things.
The one thing that I cannot get out of my head and for which I hold him responsible, is his having given into the pharmaceutical industry.
I mean there he’s agreed to settle, by allowing them to pay over a ten year period $80 billion dollars towards the cost of medical care at the rate of $8 billion a year and given up volume discounts to be taken by Medicare, which I’m concerned about.
Which if you just had a 30% discount and the pharmaceutical industry gives Canada 50% discounts, but if you only had a 30% discount, the, the pharmaceutical industry would be paying something like $140 billion a year and over a ten year period, a little more than $1 trillion dollars, which would pay for the cost of universal health care. And he’s given that up.
And why? Well, I must say, probably for the reasons that members of Congress do what the pharmaceutical industry wants too often … their campaign contributions.
HEFFNER: You’re a cynical gentleman …
KOCH: I am … yeah … I’ve been around.
HEFFNER: You’ve been around the block.
HEFFNER: What do you think about money and politics. You … your …
KOCH: It’s horrible.
HEFFNER: But you’re, you’re … you …
KOCH: It’s corrupting.
HEFFNER: You spoke so highly of Mayor Bloomberg before.
KOCH: Yes, he has … his money is his money.
HEFFNER: Is his own.
KOCH: And he can’t be corrupted. It is true that I do not like the idea that you can spend any amount … it’s moral today because the Supreme Court said so … “you can spend your own money” in a case that they decided. And he did … $100 million dollars.
In my election … the first time … it was $2 million dollars, which in today’s dollars is probably $10 million dollars that we spent.
And I worked in Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign, and I’m glad he won. But I believe there should be a limit … no matter how wealthy you are … in the amount of money that you can spend in an election.
HEFFNER: What about raising money from the outside? We know that Bloomberg didn’t have to do that.
KOCH: Well …
HEFFNER: I’m talking now about Congress …
HEFFNER: … and the President.
KOCH: I, I … it’s both good and bad. It would be nice if all campaigns were paid for out of the pubic treasury and there were no obligations that come from taking money to run a campaign. But that it’ll never happen. And there are good reasons why it shouldn’t.
But there has to be a limit on how much you can spend and it’s not hard. Most of the money you spend in a campaign is the money you spend on television commercials.
And the government owns the airwaves. And could mandate, as they do in Europe … I think in Great Britain … that the television stations provide every candidate who’s certified to be a viable candidate by some board … and give them television time and then you’d have a minimal cost for any campaign.
HEFFNER: Well, of course, back many years ago when there was … the 20th Century Fund had its Commission on Campaign Costs in the Electronic Era, when it was first recognized what a role television played … on that Commission we were concerned with picking on television. Why not pick on the airlines? They also provided much by way of expense. Nothing like television.
KOCH: The government doesn’t own the airlines. The government owns the radio and television airwaves. And it can mandate that time be set aside for candidates.
HEFFNER: For one particular kind of use?
KOCH: For commercials.
HEFFNER: Commercials? Or exchanges between candidates … debates … would you …
KOCH: Both. I would have both. But I, I believe commercials will not go out of business. And we’re talking about reducing the cost of campaigns. And the vast majority of monies raised go to the television stations and my recollection is they charge the highest rates …
KOCH: … to the candidates … not the lowest (laughter) rates and in addition what we ought to do is adopt the British system of a five week campaign.
Our campaigns go on endlessly. (Laughter). I got old in the last campaign.
HEFFNER: You think we’ll ever get to that, Ed?
HEFFNER: So it goes on and builds and builds …
KOCH: And more than that.
HEFFNER: To what end?
KOCH: More than that. Our State Legislature is dysfunctional. I would throw every one of the legislators out. The good and the bad. The good because they’re not good enough and they haven’t changed Albany … our capital. And the bad because they’re worse.
And its shameful that New York … New Yorkers who live in the Empire State, the great state that gave us FDR and Alfred E. Smith, that we should be ashamed of our public officials and we have every right to be ashamed.
And I also see the City Council going very Left because they think that Mayor Bloomberg is wounded because he didn’t do as well as they had hoped, or thought he would be doing with a 15% spread that the pollsters estimated.
Instead he came out with a 4% spread. And so he’s in for a hard time. And the people of the City of New York are in for a harder time because he will not get the cooperation of the City Council that has gone more radical.
HEFFNER: Do you think this is really going to be a real lame duck administration?
KOCH: I believe that we’re fortunate to have Mayor Bloomberg and that he will find a way. But he will not be able to do all the good things that he could be doing for the City of New York because of a, a City Council that is now radicalized.
HEFFNER: When you ended your tenure, did you wish there had been a “no third term provision” for Mayor of the City of New York?
KOCH: No. I, I actually supported term limitations, but I said there should be three terms, not two terms and they adopted a two term limitation. I am for term limitations, but three terms, not two terms.
HEFFNER: Why are you for term limitations.
KOCH: Because otherwise you can’t throw the rascals out. You take the people who are elected …
HEFFNER: But you can’t keep the good guys in.
KOCH: Well, that’s another story. But the fact is that those who are elected to be State Senators and Assembly members, they rarely lose. I think there’s a 3% turnover, max, in any one year.
And we’ve got a lot of stinkers up there that should be bounced.
HEFFNER: Same in the Congress?
KOCH: Ah, the Congress less so. But I am for term limitations. That will not happen because the … it would require a Constitutional Amendment and that will not happen. But it doesn’t require a Constitutional Amendment to do it locally.
HEFFNER: Locally. And you’d really be all for that?
HEFFNER: And on the Mayoral level … an effective …
KOCH: Well I believe that a three term limitation for Mayor is fine. We now have, to this special circle of three term Mayors … we now have four people … LaGuardia, Wagner, me and Bloomberg.
And when Bloomberg introduced me at a session that we had at Gracie Mansion where all the Commissioners in my Administration gathered, as we do once a year … I said to him, “You are now in that magic circle and I now have to pass on to you the secret handshake that LaGuardia …
KOCH: … gave me.
HEFFNER: What was it?
KOCH: (Laughter) I can’t tell … (laughter)
HEFFNER: You can’t … I’d have to be elected three times.
HEFFNER: … and that’s not very, very likely. You know, the first time you appeared on The Open Mind and I asked how you wanted people to remember you …
HEFFNER: … and that’s funny … that was 20 sessions ago …
HEFFNER: … you said, “Like LaGuardia” …
HEFFNER: … you wanted to be compared favorably …
KOCH: I do.
HEFFNER: … with LaGuardia.
KOCH: I do. He set the standard and I hope I came close to the standard. You know I loved being Mayor. I have no regrets that I’m not Mayor. I don’t look back.
When I was defeated by David Dinkins and people were unhappy with him when he ran for re-election. People said to me, “You must run again, Mayor. You must run again”.
And I responded saying, “NO … the people threw me out and the now the people must be punished.”
KOCH: And they were.
HEFFNER: And I meant it!!
HEFFNER: Ed, you, you know your beginnings are so interesting. I remember when you called me, you’d been on The Open Mind and you called me and said, “Dick, I’m thinking of running for Mayor. And I wonder if I can raise money …” that was always the important consideration.
HEFFNER: … is today. From your … you said the equivalent of … from your “limousine liberal friends” …
KOCH: Right. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: And you’d like to know a number of them. And we had a, a lunch or something …
KOCH: Yes. Right.
HEFFNER: … at our apartment … and brought in about 40 people … you spoke to them, you answered questions, you left. I have to say to you, not one of them wanted you to be …
HEFFNER: … but … when you ran four years later … everyone voted for you …
KOCH: Well, let me, let me say this to you …
HEFFNER: … and again and again.
KOCH: When I first ran and won, I got 50% of the vote. The second time I got 75% of the votes and both the Democratic and Republican Parties endorsed me. Never been done before, it’ll never be done again. And the third time I ran, I got 78% of the vote. Now the fourth time, I got 42% and I lost to David Dinkins.
I have never been a Radical. I have never been a, a Progressive. You know a Progressive is … four steps to the left of a Liberal. I’ve never been that.
People today call themselves “Progressives”, but I know what they mean. I mean it’s four steps to the left of Liberal. I have always been a Liberal with sanity. And what does that mean?
It means common sense. It means that you, you, you take yourself into the shoes of the person that you’re telling to do something. And, and you’re saying to him, “You should do that” and then you have to say to yourself “How about you? (Laughter) Are you asking too much of that person?” And I’m happy in my skin.
HEFFNER: Okay. What is it, in your skin that you most want to see the present President of the United States do?
KOCH: Well, obviously we all want peace. But I want the President to stand up to Islamic terrorism. We don’t even talk about “terrorism” any more. I mean they, they sort of make it individual criminals. They’re not individual criminals. You know, obviously a majority of Muslims are not terrorists. Decent people who want the same things that Christians and Jews and Hindus want.
But they are a billion four hundred million people and the most popular person is Bin Laden in the Islamic world and there must be several hundred Muslims who believe that the way to get to heaven as a martyr is to kill Christians, Jews and Hindus. Now they have a resoluteness. Do we have a resoluteness to stand up to them? I’m hopeful.
I know that George Bush did. I supported him. I didn’t agree with him on a single domestic issue and I said that publicly a thousand times. But on resoluteness to stand up to Islamic terrorism he was capable and did that. I hope Obama is as capable on that issue.
HEFFNER: Now on the domestic issues, which you said you didn’t agree with Bush.
KOCH: Oh, I don’t … I’m a Liberal. A liberal with sanity.
HEFFNER: (Laughter) Which are the ones … which are the issues that you want to see …
KOCH: The most important?
KOCH: I believe that there has to be a … an involvement even greater than it is today by the Federal government in education. That is the future. The children are the future of this country. I believe in universal, comprehensive medical care.
HEFFNER: Single payor?
KOCH: If I had my way, it would be. But I’m accepting of the system as is now being projected with insurance companies there. I don’t think of insurance as evil.
You know what’s evil? What’s evil is … I saw the Associated Press put out a, a statement saying they had checked the profits of insurance companies. Now I had been told, listening to members of Congress … they used the word “obscene” conveying they were beyond belief.
The AP said that the insurance companies make a profit of between 2% and 3%. That’s not obscene. A profit of 2% to 3%.
Now, if I had my way, I would have a single payor. I don’t believe that the people of Canada have a bad insurance system or the people of Great Britain. In fact, the Right Wingers, the Conservatives who fought the proposals in Canada and Great Britain, today defend …
HEFFNER: I gather that.
KOCH: They say they can do them better. The Republicans here who were fighting comprehensive health insurance, fought Medicare. Today they wouldn’t say they were against Medicare. It’s ridiculous. There are certain things that people should have as a matter of right.
I’m not saying that every person gets the same medical care. Because there are different doctors.
I was lucky … I just had a quadruple by-pass. I could have died twice in the five weeks that I was in the Intensive Care Unit of New York Presbyterian. I’m alive.
I’m alive because 20 doctors worked on me. And 72 nurses and technicians. I know because I asked for the names so I could write each a personal letter.
And I took the doctors out to Peter Lugers for dinner. To thank them. And I, I know what great medical care we have. And I’m … and, and New York Presbyterian did a commercial … pro bono on my part … of my experience. And I said, “You know some people will say that I probably got special care. Maybe …
HEFFNER: I hope so.
KOCH: Maybe. Maybe, I don’t know. But I also know that the same doctors that worked on me, were working in the Intensive Care Unit where the people were from the neighborhood, Dominicans … in large part which, because that’s where the hospital is. There wasn’t a single Deputy Mayor laying in a bed there where the doctors were working and given special care.
So I am saying I understand that there is a differential, but there’s a minimum good care that’s required for every person. And that cannot be given in an emergency clinic. That’s got to be given by a doctor who knows your record and who … you come to his office and he says, “Hello, Mrs. Smith, sit down” and he has the record there. Not every time you come there’s a new doctor (laugh), who has to ask you the same silly … not so silly …but questions that you’ve answered a thousand times.
HEFFNER: Ed, I’ve got to get you going on all the other things …
HEFFNER: …but I’m getting the signal that our time is up. Fortunately, our time isn’t up, yet. And I want to thank you so much for joining me on The Open Mind once again.
KOCH: Great fun.
HEFFNER: Thanks. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”
N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.