Edward I. Koch

How’m I Doin’?

VTR Date: November 9, 1985

Guest: Koch, Edward I.


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Ed Koch
Title: How’m I Doin’?
VTR: 11/9/85

Announcer: Edward I. Koch was born in the Bronx, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. The whole family had to fight to make ends meet. Koch worked his way through City College as a shoe salesman. He joined the Army in 1943 and saw combat with the infantry. He was discharged with the rank of Sergeant, and entered New York University Law School. Koch began a legal career, and became active in local politics. In 1956 he moved to Greenwich Village. His first attempt at elective office, a run for the State Assembly, failed. But in 1966 he was elected to the City Council, and two years later to the United States Congress. Known as an effective, competent legislator, Koch brought the political experience ad savvy that won him election as Mayor of New York City in 1977. And now, after a landslide victory, has just been elected for a third term, putting him in the ranks of only two of his predecessors, Robert Wagner and Fiorello LaGuardia.

Heffner: I’m Richard Heffner. Over the years I’ve so many times and in so many ways welcome Mayor Koch to my weekly Open Mind series or to The Editor’s Desk, that I hardly knew which tack to take today. Now, not that I have to worry overly muc about being original, for it is his Honor who is the original, the most extraordinary mayor New York or any other American city has ever had. And don’t forget, I go back to the LaGuardia years, just as he does. For this program however, just days after his overwhelming re-election to a third term, I look back to The Open Mind he and I recorded just days after our town voted him a second term, by a majority then too, large enough to be split right down the middle and still satisfy just about any other candidate for public office. And I noted then that maybe this is the kind of setting for an almost off-the-record, personal sort of talk, out of the range of those snipers and carpers and opportunists who largely want only to take his place, who press not necessarily for the truth, but surely for his turf. And so, Mr. Mayor, I think we’d all like to hear today, rock bottom, when you’re really at your leisure, really at your own disposal and not at all that of critics or sycophants, what you have in mind for the years ahead, whether you experience a sense of liberation now, a sense of power to achieve what you most want for Ed Koch and for our town. What is it that you want?

Koch: Well, first of all I want to thank you for those extraordinarily generous comments. I’m very appreciative. I tell you why id o feel somewhat liberated. And I hadn’t thought about it in those terms until you mentioned it, but I do feel liberated , and for the following reason. I’m going to run the next four years as though it were the last four years, although I probably will run for a fourth term and a fifth term and a sixth term until they carry me out of office. But when I say “as thought I were the last four years of a 12-year term or terms” it is that I want to do everything that I can to accomplish all that I can as though I’ll never have another opportunity. And therefore I will make no political concessions in the sense that we’re talking about getting something done.

Heffner: Don’t tell me you’ve ever made political concessions up to now.

Koch: I have. (Laughter) I must say, that of course I have. I couldn’t even give those to you if I wanted to. And I probably wouldn’t want to anyway, because it’s like watching a sausage being made, you don’t like. You do like to eat it, but you don’t like to watch it being made. Now, what I mean by “no political concessions”, not in an arrogant way, but I want to achieve the pristine, the best, without worrying, “Will I get re-elected if I press for the best? How many people will I alienate if I press for the best? And will that impact on a fourth term?” The answer from my point of view is, “I don’t care if it impacts or adversely affects me”. I don’t think it will. Because I remember – and I said it on this program, is my recollection – that a member of Congress with whom I was having difficulties at the time, said to me in my first term when he was unable to persuade me to do things that I didn’t think were in the best interest of the city, and he said, “Ed, you’re running this administration as though you want to be a one-term mayor”. And I said to him, “Charlie, that’s why I’m going to be a three-term mayor”. I was right. He was wrong.

Heffner: You mean we’re going to be saying to you, someone will say to you, “Mr. Mayor, you’re running this term as if you only want to be a third-term mayor?”

Koch: Right. And I will say, “that’s okay by me, because I think it will turn out otherwise.”

Heffner: What should we watch for?

Koch: Well, instead of going through a litany of tough things that I would want to do – and I’ll mention some of them simply to indicate why they’re tough to do and why they’re important to do. Let’s take universal water metering. You know, it sounds like a dry subject – no pun intended – but very important. Why? Because we now have droughts regularly. We’ve had three or so since the early 1960s. And that’s regularly, because you suffer from them for a considerable period of time. And we were down to something like 44 percent of capacity in our reservoirs this past summer. We don’t know what will happen next summer. You know, the best way to have conservation is if you have to pay for your water if you go past a certain amount, that you then get surcharged. It has an enormous impact if you’ve got to pay for it. You just don’t let the faucets run freely and waste our water. But we don’t have any meters in most of the residences of this city. And there will be an outcry, “We don’t want them. They’re expensive”. Yes, we have to find a way to make it economically doable, and we will, but we have to have the residences of this city metered. The commercial establishments already are and you can bet that during difficult times as it relates to drought they cut down on water.

Heffner: Mr. Mayor, do you believe in the progressive income tax?

Koch: Oh, I do. Sure.

Heffner: But don’t you think that this water tax then will be retrogressive rather than progressive?

Koch: No…

Heffner: Someone with dollars can use up all the water he or she wants.

Koch: Well, let’s assume that that were so. The fact is that someone with all the dollars is a very small number as it relates to our water. And if you’re going to tell me that life is unfair, I’m going to tell you that Jack Kennedy said that before you. Nevertheless, you have to deal with what’s doable. The same thing is true, isn’t it, of gasoline and oil? When we said the way to beat the Arab oil boycott is to conserve, and we had surcharges on imported oil and higher prices for gasoline, the guy who had unlimited money bought as much as he wanted to, but nevertheless there was conservation, and in the long run it was worthwhile even though some miserable person would use his or her money in a miserable way.

Heffner: Do you think you’ll hear about this miserable approach to using money to get, use more water while the rest of us are without?

Koch: Well, there are other ways of handling it, by the way, in large scale, and that is that you ration. You know, we could come to rationing where you’re able to turn off whole sections of the city if you find that they are engaging in an unfair, inequitable usage of our water, endangering the water supply of others. Now, I don’t want to…

Heffner: You don’t want to bite that bullet?

Heffner: I don’t know, Mr. Mayor, but you talk about…

Koch: It’s called capitalism. You know what I mean? I happen to like capitalism, with all of its inequities. And I’m not a rich person. I’m not a poor person. But I am not for saying that if you have money that you can’t go and spend it. We have to find w ay to surcharge and surcharge and surcharge so that ultimately it may become even for a rich person not doable.

Heffner: Some of the other things.

Koch: Well, traffic is an enormous problem for us. We’re not talking about the core city, which is Manhattan. And I want to stop two things from occurring, and other things will come to mind by the experts, but the two that come to my mind immediately are that during rush hours, in the course of the mass transit strike, when the subways weren’t working we put in the following requirement: that if you came over any of our bridges that you had to have more than a driver in the car at any time in the course of the day. At one time you had to have at least three people in the car. And we could do that under the police emergency powers. And it reduced the number of cars that came in, because then people used common cars, so to speak, carpools.

Heffner: You want to do it again?

Koch: In a less stringent way. We want to say that during rush hours, in the morning and in the evening, that if you use our East River bridges or Harlem River bridges, our Hudson River bridges, that you have to have at least one passenger in addition to the driver. That would be one illustration. We’re not allowed to do it without getting state legislation. I tried to it administratively and the courts struck id down. So I have to get state legislation. There will be opposition to it.

Heffner: Will the governor side with you on this?

Koch: Oh, I suspect so. The question is, can I get the legislature to do it, because the people who will be coming in oft-times will be people from out of the City of New York, and those are the legislators who have to vote on it. But I hope they will understand it’s in the interest of the city and do it. Another situation that people have talked about – they tried it once in the Wagner Administration, it didn’t’ work, maybe they didn’t’ do it right, maybe they didn’t extend it for a sufficient period of time, for whatever reason, I’m going to do it again and I’m going to make it work – and that is to prohibit truck deliveries to commercial establishments between 8 AM and 6 PM, so that the deliveries – and the reason they’re important is, not only do those trucks take up the lane of normally parking which we can turn into a traffic lane, but they also double-park. They’ve got to get their merchandise delivered, I understand that. And cops are understanding. We don’t want the town to grind to a halt. But you can prohibit all of that and still get the deliveries if you say you’ve got to deliver before 8 AM or after 6 PM, that will unclog our streets. I’m going to try it.

Heffner: Do you think it is going to work?

Koch: I do indeed believe it will have a major positive impact on the flow of traffic.

Heffner: Mr. Mayor, you said you’re a believer in capitalism. And we’re going to pay for this program right now by taking a break in just a moment, and then we’ll come back.

Koch: Very reasonable.

Heffner: Mr. Mayor, there’s so many of these issues that I want you to address yourself to, so do members of the audience. Let’s talk about something that’s on the mind of so many people: health, AIDS, we can’t get away from that.

Koch: Sure.

Heffner: What are you going to do now?

Koch: Well, it’s a problem which the City of New York can’t handle by itself. And you have the following components: you have treatment. And we’re going to try to treat in the sense of providing medical care without regard to whether or not a person can pay for it. And there are hundreds of people who have AIDS who are in our municipal hospitals or in the voluntary hospitals, and they will receive treatment either under Medicaid or, if they’re medically indigent, not covered by Medicaid, we will provide for them anyway. Then you have research, which has to be a federal responsibility. And then you have to have education, which is probably the only thing that we can do to prevent aids, because there is no cure, there is no vaccine. You will die if you get AIDS. What I have found now is that the media, the newspapers, television, are capable of using explicit descriptions which they would never have dreamt that they could have used. The New York Times uses in its columns references to anal intercourse. I never thought that that would get by. The New York Times. But it is such a catastrophic disease, it leads to death, that we have to put aside any attitudes that you cannot these things because it’s a family newspaper. And it’s to their credit that they are doing it. So education, that you get AIDS not through casual contact but through oral and anal sexual intercourse, you get it through the transfer of blood that is tainted with the AIDs virus. Now, there are a million people that have the AIDs virus, and somewhere between ten and 20 percent that will come down with the disease known as AIDS, which leads to death.

Heffner: Your own sense of it; a plague?

Koch: Well, it’s very much like the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages. And it is not a visitation of god’s wrath upon the homosexual community because heterosexuals are getting it in larger numbers in Africa. And then if it’s being passed on and transmitted under heterosexual sexual intercourse in Africa, that will happen here as well. So those who want to, for their own discriminatory needs, to just attack homosexuals — which they shouldn’t do under any circumstances, I mean, we’re all god’s children – they don’t even have that as a legitimate weapon because this is a catastrophic disease that will affect everyone. Everyone is at risk. Everyone, thank god, won’t get it. But everyone ultimately will be at risk. The largest growing number, by the way, today are those who are drug abusers who use hypodermic needles and inject the virus through dirty needles from someone else’s viral component into their own bloodstream.

Heffner: What’s your feeling at this moment on the question of providing clean needles?

Koch: Well, I tried very hard to get support for Dr. Sense who came up with the idea that we should allow people to buy clean needles without prescription instead of having the underground provide them with dirty needles where they are killing themselves. And I asked every law enforcement official, every DA and every other law enforcement official in the City of New York, would they agree that we should seek the legislation in the state to secure that, and every one of them said no, and they gave two reasons. One, they said that part of the drug syndrome is to use dirty needles, and second, that anyone who is seeking a fix, a drug fix, isn’t going to look for a clean needle. Whether they’re right or whether they’re wrong, I know that there are people out there who will die because of a dirty needle, and maybe they would have been saved for a clean needle. Now, on the other hand, I know that without the governor supporting this proposal of state legislation, changing and allowing needles to be sold without prescriptions and without Dr. David Axelrod, who Is the State Health Commissioner, concurring with Dr. David Senser, the city’s Health Commissioner, without the four of us supporting this provision, we could never get it through. So it really is in the hands of the governor and the state commissioner as to whether or not they want to support eh idea. If they say yes, then I’m willing to stand up and fight for it. If they don’t say yes, and they have not said yes, I know it’s wasted effort on my part.

Heffner: Yes, but this doesn’t sound like the Mayor Ed Koch who a few moments ago said, “here, in my third term, I’m going to push for those things that I believe in.”

Koch: I’m going to. But I also have a limited number of things that I can push for, difficult as they are, where I think I can get success. If you have every single law enforcement official in the City of New York telling the legislature no, and you don’t have the governor and the State Health Commissioner in agreement – and I don’t know what their position is, I know they haven’t expressed themselves, to the best of my knowledge, on this subject yet – it’s just not doable. So I’m not Don Quixote. I’m not.

Heffner: I thought you were.

Koch: No, I’m not. I am willing to take on the most difficult of tasks, but I have to in my own mind believe that with the energy that is necessary that I could put together the coalition to win. I know without those two I cannot. I hope that if they concur that we could.

Heffner: What side are you on in this question of coming, perhaps, to quarantining?

Koch: Oh, that’s ridiculous. I mean…

Heffner: Why is it ridiculous?

Koch: Well, look, if a million people have the virus, and somewhere between ten and 20 percent will actually come down with AIDs, but that means, let’s say, at the most, 200,000 will have the disease itself. And it takes the form of Kaposi’s sarcoma and a certain kind of pneumonia and a few other assorted diseases that these people have the virus and suppressed immunology get. It’s a three-part syndrome making the disease. But then you will have 800,000 who have the virus and who are more virulent in terms of passing it on than those who are sick. Because those who are sick don’t have sexual intercourse. I think that they are so tired and they’re dying that they’re not the danger anymore to other people. The 800,000 who are not sick, they are out there spreading the disease. Now, can you imagine quarantining at this moment a million people in the United States? What would you do with them? Shoot them? I’m not for shooting them. I’m not for quarantining them. I am for providing education that would teach others not to engage in these high-risk sexual practices; I am for providing treatment for those who have the disease, and I am for providing education to those who have the virus, asking them not to engage in these high-risk sexual practices. But I’m not for setting up concentration camps.

Heffner: Do you think we may come to the point where the pressure for that becomes greater and greater?

Koch: There will be pressure, but this is one guy who will stand in the way of that pressure.

Heffner: And how will he stand in the way of pressure about schools and kids admitted to schools?

Koch: Well, here. No child who has AIDS and who enters the school system is a danger to other children. That’s what all of our doctors say. That’s what the reasonable medical approach is, and that’s why I have supported the Chancellor Quinones and Dr. David Sense and our corporation counsel in our effort, successful thus far, to maintain the one known child that has AIDS (they get the disease in their mother’s body when they’re born, the mother being a drug addict who has AIDS as a result of her drug addiction and dirty hypodermic needles), that one child is still in the school system. And any other child that is identified as having AIDs, where the doctors believe that that child is not a danger to other children, that child will be in the school system. Our problem is to educate. And I know that with all of the education you will never calm the fears, legitimate fears, of a parent worried about this or her own children. But I have to do what’s reasonable and responsible. And while I understand those fears of those parents and I’ve tried to calm them, I know I’m never going to do it successfully with all of those parents. But I’m not going to make a sacrificial lamb out of that poor child who had AIDS inflicted upon her or him in their mother’s body.

Heffner: Mr. Mayor, we know some of the things you’re going to do in the next four years. Where do you think the nation is going to be going? Which direction?

Koch: Well, I think the nation’s going in a terrific direction, a common sense direction. You know, I disagree with many things that President Reagan has done. I happen to like him personally; I’ve said that many, many times. But the one thing that I admire about him is his courage to speak his mind. And while I disagree with a number of his domestic policies, I also think he’s had an enormous change and impact upon this country, and moved us not so much to his direction, which is on the right, but closer to the centrist aspect of this political thought that we have in our country. Because I do believe that we will, as a result of a whole host of doctrines, unlimited monies being available, we thought until we were at the edge of bankruptcy, womb-to-tomb coverage being the desire on the part of a number of people, myself included. You know, if you’re young and you’re not an arch-liberal, there’s something wrong with you. But if you middle aged like me, 60, if you have the same radical, liberal left thoughts that you had when you were very young, then there’s something wrong with you – meaning me in this case. Common sense comes closer to the mind as you approach middle age.

Heffner: On Open Mind you’ve said a number of times that you thought that your party, the Democratic party – although this time around everybody voted for you in this city – the Democratic Party hadn’t yet come to this realization. Do you think that’s still true?

Koch: Yes. (Laughter) regrettably. I think that they haven’t yet come to the point where they understand that the reason that we have lost the most recent presidential election, the one before that, was that, not that the voters left the Democratic Party, but that the Democratic Party left the voters. I think we’re moving closer to it, and getting back, because we, there’s nothing that has a greater impact on someone who’s run for office than to lose, and then to examine why. And if you find that it is because you’re out of touch, not on matters of morality, you know, on a moral issue, whether you’re for abortion or against abortion, whether you’re for the death penalty or against the death penalty, you can be moral on both sides. The number of voters on each side should not affect you. It should be what you believe. And if you go down to defeat, that’s okay, there’s a place for you in heaven if that’s the issue that you were defeat4ed on. But that is al limited number of issues. The vast number of issues are a question of common sense and examination, not matters of morality where there is no compromise.

Heffner: Mr. Mayor, that’s a good way to sum up. One further word. Do you think your party will recognize what you want it to recognize by the next time around?

Koch: Well, I’m secure enough knowing that I’m never going to run for anything other than mayor. I know I said that once before and paid the penalty. I lost. God punished me, and rightfully so, when I ran for governor I tell you now, never will I run for any other office other than re-election as mayor. And therefore I can sit in the catbird seat and criticize.

Heffner: That’s a great place to be.

Koch: (Laughter) Right.

Heffner: Thanks so much for joining me today, Mr. Mayor. I’m Richard Heffner. I trust you’ll have joined the Mayor and me on The Open Mind before then. But perhaps we really ought to make a date now for another post-election special with his Honor for four years from today. And meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck.”