Edward I. Koch
Koch on Our Town
VTR Date: May 10, 1987
Guest: Koch, Edward I.
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THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Mayor Edward I. Koch
Title: “Koch on Our Town”
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. To me, as you must have guessed by this time, doing this program is a pure delight. I felt that way when I began it in 1956. I feel that way now…only more so. What’s frustrating about THE OPEN MIND, however, is that no matter how flattering it is that we’re seen in many other parts of the country, too, as a result we seldom really have the chance to go local, to focus on strictly New York issues, on matter that matter particularly much in our town, or at least in our metropolitan area.
Mostly, I have to shunt those often intriguing local issues aside for others that are more cosmic, if you will, or international, or at least national in scope and interest to viewers elsewhere around the country. Which is fine, but frustrating, particularly so when today’s guest has been at this tale before. For it is still our town, and with Ed Koch here I want to talk with his Honor the Mayor about it and about him, and about us. So that today I’ve arranged somehow to beat the system, to beam an older repeat OPEN MIND to the satellite that transmits to our viewers in other parts of the country…but to have Ed Koch all to ourselves here in New York. In short, we’re going parochial today. Not that you’re a parochial kind of gent, Mayor Koch. In fact all to the programs we’ve done together have been quite appealing to people in California, Massachusetts, everywhere.
KOCH: Well, the Mayor of the city, no matter who that person is, is an attraction for the rest of the country. I don’t know why, although I suppose I do. There is a love-hate relationship relating to the city, everybody’s interested in it and they’re interested in the Mayor so I’m just the guy in the barrel today.
HEFFNER: Well, of course, I decided that I was going to start off our program by asking you what nerve, what chutzpah you had in becoming a rival, in going on television yourself. And I wondered how you respond to the experience; you’ve been doing an awful lot of your own.
KOCH: Well, I think what you have reference to is that I had a Sunday show. Actually they took Danger Mouse that had a half-hour and they got him off and he did better than I did. So we stopped the Sunday mornings and I actually now do a half-hour of prime time. I had Governor Cuomo as my first guest and the Cardinal will be my second guest. So, I enjoy it. I relax at those programs.
HEFFNER: A mutual friend of ours said that in fact in the year 2000 or so, when you decide to leave City Hall, that that’s really what you want to do. True?
KOCH: Well, it’s not far into my thought, although I’d like to be Mayor for a fourth and fifth term and then why count?
HEFFNER: You know, when you were here seven years ago, January 12th, 1980, we had a colloquy on that question. I asked you at the end, when it’s all over what do you want said about you? Fair question? You said, “That’s a good question. I want people to say at the end of the term or terms that I served – I hope to be here for twelve years, but if I’m not, it’s okay – that he was the best Mayor since LaGuardia. That would be the greatest accolade that I could ever receive”. And then I pursued you on that and said, “Gosh, earlier on you sounded as though you wanted to be here forever, as long as you could”. And you said – well, you were tired that day – some days get you down. Have the experiences of the last year got you down?
KOCH: Yes. Just to recap it a little bit…It was in January of ’86 when the beginning of the scandals here in the city started with the attempted suicide by Donny Manes and since that time there have been a number of people in government, out of government who have been indicted or there are allegations about their criminality and they’ve left government. And I knew a number of those people and worked closely with them in government. And it was a shock, I must tell you, an absolute shock. And there were days particularly when some of the newspapers began to simply have a drum beat, as it were, relating to the corruption. I don’t know what they wanted me to say other than that which I did say, which was, “It happened on my watch. I’m politically responsible. I didn’t know that they were corrupt. Some of them were elected independently, with larger votes than I got; the Borough President of Queens, Donny Manes, for example. Or a Stanley Friedman, who was a country leader, independently elected. But that my job was to remove the corruption now that we know it was there. I’m only sorry that the law enforcement people, including the Department of Investigations, didn’t know about it earlier. Now, everybody says and correctly, that the Mayor, me, that I’m personally honest and I am, and the question was my having to take all of this time to respond. To take the additional actions that were necessary to deal with the corruption hazards and to root out those who could be perceived as corrupt. Would that prevent me from the delivery of services? I found that it did not, but it gave me a lot of sleepless nights. I would wake…I want to tell you I’m a very sound sleeper. And before this happened I probably had three sleepless nights in the nine years before in operating the government on very difficult matters and I wasn’t sure that the judgment I was making was right, it turned out in all cases they were. But I had, you know, apprehensions about…here when I would wake up, the thought was, “How could this happen? How could this happen in my administration since they’ve had government in the City of New York?” So what does it mean? It means we’ve got to do more and we also have to understand that corruption is part of our society…don’t like it, want to punish it, but when you have the corruption of the Ivan Boesky, with sixty more like him, according to Rudy Giuliani, it shouldn’t come as shock, although it really is, that there would be comparable corrupt people in government; federal, state, city.
HEFFNER: Let’s go back to this question of it’s being on your watch. And you say that it is, of course. Now that you have a new hand in the Department of Investigations, and a good hand at that…
KOCH: Yes. Ken Conboy.
HEFFNER: Do you expect to have more sleepless nights? Are there more surprises in store for us?
KOCH: Well, I think he’s done a superb job as you indicated. And obviously the people who have done the best job would be Rudy Giuliani and Bob Morgenthau and other district attorneys. But Ken Conboy has been super and keeps me informed and we take whatever measures are required to deter corruption. I doubled his department’s budget, the largest increase that any department receives on a percentage basis, as soon as he came in.
HEFFNER: You see, that’s why I asked the question. Because knowing Conboy and knowing that you doubled the budget, I wondered whether we’re in for more.
KOCH: There will always be.
HEFFNER: We’d better batten down the hatches.
KOCH: No, I believe that it will not be the way it was in terms of numbers of people. You know it’s hard to quantify because once you start examining who has been the subject of corruption charges then you have to say, “Well, were they indicted? Was it merely suspicion? When you named them, were they really in city government or were they part of state government or part of the federal government”? Because anything that’s connected with New York, people automatically assume that those people are part of the New York City government, when many of these people were not.
HEFFNER: But let’s talk, Mr. Mayor, a moment about the styles of governance. This question on the national scene of what did Reagan know and when did he know it? All reflect a kind of management style. Now, what do you have to say about your management style that enabled this to happen on your watch?
KOCH: Well, if the Commissioner of the Department of Investigations, who is responsible, had a Department that was functioning the way it should, this would have been detected early on. And that particular Commissioner, who’s no longer with us, was not told of signs of corruption in various agencies because his department was not well run. So the question is, could I have known what the Commissioner of the Department of Investigations did not know because his subordinates didn’t tell him. And there’s no indication of corruption on the part of DOI, Department of Investigations, people…Incompetence, yes; corruption, no. But I still take responsibility. There are columnists, you know, who attack me quite regularly. They attacked me before this situation. They don’t like me ideologically. They think that I’m a bad Mayor. Most people think I’m a good Mayor; I got seventy-eight percent of the vote. I didn’t get their vote. It’s half a dozen columnists who I have…they attacked me by column. I respond by letter. I mean quite a good set of letters out in the newspaper morgues.
HEFFNER: Only more people read them than read you.
KOCH: Well, that’s regrettable. But the truth of the matter is, I believe…and I’m not attacking the press for attacking me. You know that’s part of politics. If you are in public office, it’s like being on a high wire. Walking a high wire without a safety new. That would be Gary Hart’s situation. So to attack the press is foolish. But to respond to the press is absolutely correct. And I respond. I don’t attack them in the sense of blaming them for any of the problems that I might have. But when they’re unfair or if I think they’re unfair, I’ll get off a column, I’ll get off a letter. You know I do a number of columns and I enjoy writing them.
HEFFNER: Do you think that the press has, in any way, damaged…not in terms of your reputation, somehow or other one assumes you’ll always spring back. You’ve done it and you will do it. And you have no need to do it at the moment because things are going that well. You say you don’t blame the press. But what does that mean? That the press has acted the way you think it should have acted in a free society?
KOCH: No. I believe…when I say I don’t blame the press, I don’t think it’s helpful that you do a Nixon-type response or a Gary Hart response. If you’ve made mistakes, admit them. I believe that I have the courage to admit errors on my part. And If I make mistakes, I’ll admit them. When I criticize the press, putting aside the errors in judgment they make relating to what I’m doing…and now talking about the Gary Hart situation…it is, in Gary Hart’s case, he brought about his own downfall because of his arrogance and because his private life became a matter of public disclosure. Or as Catholics refer to it, and I’m not Catholic, but I picked up the jargon…it would be a public scandal. His private life became a public scandal. Now once it reaches that point, I mean you go to Bimini on a boat called Monkey Business with a single woman, not your wife, and others in the same situation, that’s a public scandal. You have a private life and if you’re engaging in a private liaison, that’s a matter between you and your wife and between you and your God. There’s where Gary Hart is wrong in attacking in the press. But the press is wrong in the way it centered on it. For example, was it necessary to run those pictures of bikini clad women? Was it done to talk about a problem or was it done to sell newspapers? Was it good reporting to do a stakeout and to do it so abominably that Inspector Clouseau would have denounced it? You stake out the front, but you don’t stake out the back? I don’t like what the Miami Herald did.
HEFFNER: Look, there seems to be a slight contradiction there.
KOCH: Let’s hear it.
HEFFNER: If you’ll forgive me.
HEFFNER: You talk about the front, but not the back.
HEFFNER: Had they covered the back, would you have respected them more?
KOCH: I would have said that they shouldn’t have done it, but doing it, do it right.
HEFFNER: Now you say they shouldn’t have done…they should have done their…they shouldn’t have done what they did, but if they were going to do it, do it right.
KOCH: Do it right.
HEFFNER: Okay. Now, why was he so foolish then?
KOCH: Well, the two foolish qualities about him…in this particular case he’s a very smart man. I think he had an element of self-destruction.
HEFFNER: That’s what I wondered.
KOCH: I believe that when he challenged the press and said to them that they should follow him around. They’d be bored, and that was a death wish. I believe that was a death wish. And on the other hand, I don’t think they should have followed him around. I would say that to you. So that they both come off very poorly. And again, I want to hark back to the fact…they have a right to do it. First Amendment says you have a right to do it. Whether they should have done it is another question.
HEFFNER: And in this city, do you think they’ve respectfully, wisely, modestly enough covered the scandals of the past year or so?
HEFFNER: Here in New York.
KOCH: City government?
HEFFNER: City government.
KOCH: I believe that most have and that some have not. I believe that some have been brutish, brutish meaning animal-like, in their coverage, in their commentary, some to wound me because they don’t like me. I’m not going to mention their names, once you do that, you elevate them. But there are people, some editorial writers, few…some columnists, a few who I believe that, if you examine what they did, I’m not talking about their private lives, just how they handle themselves in public and their…what’s interesting is I put out my income tax return. I put out net worth statement every year for public disclosure. We all file different forms so everybody knows everything about us. Don’t you think the Fourth Estate, which is a peaceful as government and is immune to all of this, don’t you think that a columnist who comments constantly on city government says the government’s giving away this and the government’s giving away this…and then they will attack you with the kind of expressions that are just short of calling you a crook and even if they call you a crook you can’t do anything about it under the Supreme Court decisions. There is absolutely no possibility of recovery and so you don’t even think in those terms. But you say to yourself, at least I do, “Why doesn’t Mr. A, B and C or the columnists that I know of, why don’t they show us their tax returns? Why don’t they show us their net worth statements?” There’s a lot we should know about those people that we’ll never know.
HEFFNER: Of course, they’re asking people in public life to find out if there is any money exchanging hands, if there is corruption.
KOCH: Well, how about those columnists…how do we know if money exchanges hands? I mean…
HEFFNER: Do you think somebody is paying those columnists who don’t like you?
KOCH: No, no, no. Not at all.
KOCH: I’m not talking about their comments about me. I’m talking about in general. I’m not talking about that, no. No.
HEFFNER: Talking about comments that have been made about you, I had to take exception to Andy Logan in the New Yorker saying, “Like many men in their sixties”, and I immediately looked in the mirror, “he has developed jowls and his hair is gone except for a wispy fringe”, and she seems determined to emphasize your age, our age I should say And then she said last month, The New York Times which often seems bent on helping him put the best possible face on things, ran a front page story about him that used the word ‘mellows’ in the headline, causing reporters at whom he had snapped and snarled at that week to wonder, what he might have called them if he had not mellowed”. Have you mellowed?
KOCH: Well I think I’ve mellowed because I don’t say nasty things about Andy Logan. Andy Logan, who is a woman – and therefore that prevents you from saying what you might otherwise say…it’s just part of our society. You can’t – in a way is unfair. She’d be one of the columnists that I would say is unfair. Why? Not because of the personal commentary. I mean I would think that the New Yorker would be insulted that people would use their columns for personal commentary of that kind. Would you say that my hair is skimpy, wispy or what-have-you? I don’t think so. It’s a genetic factor, you know. You get baldness from your mother. Should I have to be attacked for that? If I’ve put on some weight in ten years…Do you know anybody who hasn’t put on weight over ten years? Normally you do, two pounds a year. I was offended by that. I’ll tell you what I was most offended by. Not that it attacked me, but it reduced the image of the New Yorker in my mind.
HEFFNER: And that’s what concerned you?
KOCH: Now talking about the mellowness. Sure, you get mellower, if you will. But you have to define that.
HEFFNER: Please do.
KOCH: Okay. The definition for me is greater wisdom. You don’t get smarter if life, you acquire more wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience. And I believe that one of the things that I’ve allowed to happen is, so much to be done, city to be saved from bankruptcy, we’re now the strongest city in America, fiscally. Ten years ago people thought we were going into bankruptcy. I’m very proud of that. I had something to so with it. I was the Mayor in the course of that period of time. And to get it done there were too many times when I would take for granted that people would understand what it is that I was asking them to do. And many did. And many did not. So now, we have more time because we have an ability to deliver more services, because our financial condition is so much better. I can take more time to sit down, here the complaints, try to reason with the individual and provide the back-up information which, in the past I didn’t do. In that sense, mellower.
HEFFNER: If things are better and you know…
KOCH: They are.
HEFFNER: …because of that, why did Mobil leave? Why is it leaving New York?
KOCH: Well, Mobil and J.C. Penney are not reflective of firms leaving the cities. Firms may leave the city. I hope they do not and when those two leave, we’re upset. But they’re special. If they had gone to New Jersey, I would really be tearing this skimpy hair out. I’d be pulling some more of them out. But you cannot compete with Texas which is where J.C. Penney went. Why did they go to Texas? They went because the building that they own has now increased in value tenfold and they can sell it, make a big bundle and buy a very cheap building in Waco, Texas…if you ever want to live in Waco, Texas.
HEFFNER: Watch it. Watch it.
KOCH: It’s okay.
HEFFNER: Somebody may, from Waco, Texas, see this.
KOCH: I love Waco, Texas…to visit. Now but at the same time they go to Waco, Texas, a minimum of twenty-five percent of their higher priced New York employees who have lived in this region are not going down there and giving up their cultural lives. And therefore, they will have reduced their payroll and the higher cost of it. The same thing is true of Mobil going down to Virginia. If, as I said earlier, they had gone to New Jersey because of competition…you know, Jersey offers this, we have to offer that, then I would be worried. But going to Texas or Virginia, I don’t like it. But it is not in the same ballgame, if you will, of other firms. Now more firms move in than move out. In the eight years before I became the Mayor we lost six hundred thousand jobs. In the ten years that I’ve been the Mayor, we gained three hundred thousand jobs and of those, three hundred thousand, sixty thousand or more were gained in last year.
HEFFNER: Okay. Things are better. The Mayor is mellow. Somewhat. Will His Honor make the assumption that you made years ago when you were here, that you would go on and on and on? Just between us.
KOCH: I will run again. I love government. I got seventy-eight percent of the vote in November of ’85. I doubt that I can secure seventy-eight percent of the vote in ’89. It was interesting – I was interviewed by some reporters and they said to me, “Well, don’t you have a problem with minorities?” And I said, “No”. Not anymore than anybody else does. “Well, you do”. So I said, “Well, how do you compute that?” And they said, “Well, we’ve talked to some leaders”. And I said, “Yeah, but did you look at the election results”? And in the election results I said to them, “You know what’s strange? That my highest support comes from the Hispanic community. Eighty-one percent. My next highest is in the White community. Probably around seventy-five. And then the third is in the Black community, about seventy-three or something like that”. So I said, “Does that mean I have trouble in the White community? Based on the fact that the Hispanic community seems to vote for me more? Now, there’s no question by that any mayor will have a problem with people who are economically worst off than other groups. And there’s no question that the minorities are worse off. But I think that my government has been of great help to them because of the three hundred thousand jobs that I mentioned to you. More than half went to minorities in this city. And those of Federal figures, not mine.
HEFFNER: You know, when I used to do THE EDITOR’S DESK, we would, just before each summer, find the editors at a roundtable bemoaning our fate, saying “This is going to be a long, hot summer”. And I wondered how you feel about the racial tensions that have surfaced.
KOCH: Sure. Firstly, there have been ten years in my administration and we’ve not had a single long, hot summer. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t turn hot tomorrow in the sense that you’re talking about, ‘cause any incident could do it. Under Lindsey, who’s always extolled, they had long, hot summers. That’s why he was out on the streets. They had riots. They had them under Wagner before him…racial riots and they had them under Beame. Thank God we have not had them so far. Now Ben Ward, who is a marvelous police commissioner, he said that he thought there might be. And then he went on to explain, he said “There are people out there who have a political agenda, who will use any incident to create a racial confrontation for their political agenda”. But the vast majority of people, Black or White or Hispanic, they’re not interested in violence and burning. It doesn’t get anybody anywhere. But there are small groups who would like to excite large groups that do that. So of course I worry about it.
HEFFNER: Having pinpointed that, particularly since your police commissioner did, what do you do about it?
KOCH: Well, what we tried to is open the playgrounds this summer and have the youngsters in those playgrounds heretofore not available after six o’clock in the evening. Now they’re going to be open through the evening. To have an opportunity for more summer jobs. There are going to be seventy thousand summer jobs this summer, forty thousand provided by the private sector. The school system is seeking to expand an understanding of slavery, of holocaust, of the relationships between groups. And I’m out there talking to groups. It happens on the very day that we are discussing this, this morning, I was out at a Black church in Brooklyn, St. Mark’s Church, which is an Episcopal Church. I was very well received. And there is a problem there between the Black community and the Jewish community known as the Lubovitch Community. I understand it. I talk straightforward to them. We’re going to try to bring them together, recognizing that they have different problems, different needs, but the same fears. Everybody thinks that somebody else is being better treated. When they’re both being treated, I suppose, badly from their point of view, although, I’m trying to do it better.
HEFFNER: My understanding is that there is a section of the police department that is concerned with terrorism.
HEFFNER: Is there a section of the police department that is concerned with and doing anything about the potential for organized violence?
KOCH: There is a section of the police department that deals with what they call “bias incidents”. Any time there’s a crime of violence involving people or property, a determination is made as to whether or not it should be described as a bias incident. So we do have such a department. Then the City of New York has people in what we call our CAU Unit, where we have people on the scene. I’m sure we could do more, but we are trying very hard to stay in touch with local people. And I personally have a group of minister, priests and rabbis that I meet with. And then Bishop Joe Sullivan of Brooklyn chairs a special commission that I instituted to deal with the problems of racial unrest.
HEFFNER: Any, in thirty seconds…
HEFFNER: …any direct knowledge on the part of the police department that there are those who will try to foment action this summer?
KOCH: Oh, yes. Ben Ward believes that there are several people who will be out there seeking to create racial tension and rioting for a political agenda. And we hope that they’re not successful.
HEFFNER: Mr. Mayor, I hope so too. And I want to thank you for joining me again on THE OPEN MIND.
KOCH: Thank you.
HEFFNER: Our own little “Our Town” edition.
And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, today’s themes, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.
Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation; The M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; The Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney; The Richard Lounsbery Foundation; Mr. Lawrence A. Wien; and the New York Times Company Foundation.