Jerry Kassar’s Common Sense: Mayor Ed Koch

I suspect many people in New York politics have an Ed Koch story or two. In my case — from walking in a parade with him in the Bronx, when he was running for mayor when I was working for an opponent way back in 1977, to Bob Turner’s race in 2011 — our paths crossed many times.

Once, at a weekday lunch with him and his former press secretary and lifelong friend George Arzt, he quietly talked with me about his accomplishments as mayor (his favorite topic) and how they stood up to what was going on in the city at that point, which was around 2002.

What I found striking, that day and other times I was with him in smaller gatherings, was how this bigger-than-life personality — which came across to the public as a loud, sometimes brash, stereotypical New Yorker — was pensive, thoughtful and anything but loud in these more private settings. That is not to say he did not talk a lot or command center attention.

One thing about him that I would have found a bit peculiar, if I had not spent my entire life in politics, was the old newspaper clipping or two from his days as mayor that he could and would produce.

Personally, I thought he was a good mayor, especially when compared to the two that came before him (John Lindsay and Abe Beame) and the one that came after him (David Dinkins). He put the city back on track fiscally and generally kept the government flowing along.

Plus, he did provide leadership in a New York sort of way. He had his faults and, like Mayor Bloomberg, he should not have stayed for a third term. But being mayor, in his own words, was the highlight of his life, so it is no surprise that he did not want to give it up. Upon his loss to David Dinkins he did assure his supporters that there is life after being mayor and I think he clearly proved it.

More liberal than not, he managed to be friends with many who did not share his ideological views like Mike Long who served in the City Council during a portion of Koch’s years as mayor and sometimes appeared with him on New York One’s “Inside City Hall.”

He famously asked everyone (although never me), “How I am doing?” You did okay, Mr. Mayor. You did okay.


Congratulations to Simon Shamoun, the new Republican commissioner of elections for Brooklyn. Simon is a practicing attorney in Bay Ridge and Republican Leader of the 46th Assembly District who once served State Senator Golden, who I serve as chief of staff, as his counsel.

He will have his work cut out in bringing about change to the board which has come under considerable criticism in recent years. Just this past November, voting lines stretched in some places for over an hour. And the final certified count in Brooklyn’s elections was not available until December 21 a full six weeks after Election Day.

There was also a change in Republican commissioners in Queens and there is talk that there will be other changes. The Republican delegation to the City Council headed up by Jimmy Oddo — clearly concerned that the Board of Elections was dysfunctional and needed reform — initiated these changes in conformance with New York State law and the City Charter. They can only act on Republican commissioner positions when an opening exists.

The Democratic City Councilmembers should follow the Republican lead and also begin looking at wholesale changes at the board. It is sadly apparent that their party leadership is happy with the status quo. This status quo protects inefficient and even incompetent performance at taxpayer expense.

A more drastic change — which the State Conservative Party recently adopted as a legislative plank that they released at their political action conference in Albany — calls for the abolishment of the political system at the board which requires a Republican and Democrat be hired for every job.

This would be replaced with a civil service system similar to how the rest of government is managed in the state. Jobs would be available upon testing to all citizens, as opposed to the present system which requires you to be an enrolled Republican or Democrat.

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