Sunday, March 07, 2010

Koch Against the Machine
I’ve never been an Ed Koch fan. His personality combo of bully and nebbish rubs me the wrong way; much more to the point, he’s been a huge asshole in his politics pretty much ever since leaving the New York City mayoralty, famously supporting George W. Bush against John Kerry in 2004 among a slew of lesser offenses. He also sucks as a film critic.

But I have to tip my cap to the guy for what he must be thinking of as his last major political act at 85 years old (and coming off the same major heart surgery I had last year plus a quadruple bypass): a campaign to clean up the sinkhole that Albany.

Given that Koch initially came to prominence way, way back in the day as a reform champion, then saw his mayoralty undermined and his reputation wiped out from all the corruption on his watch (even as nobody suggested Ed himself was a crook), this has the potential to become a nice redemption story. Nobody doubts Koch's love for the city where he made his name--or, perhaps, his enduring enmity for a state capital he never quite was able to conquer; his 1982 gubernatorial bid ended in defeat as Mario Cuomo, whom Koch had bested in the 1977 mayoral race, won the Democratic nomination and went on to serve three terms as the state's chief executive.

That said, I doubt it works. The criteria for identifying "the worst ones" in Albany--whom he describes as "evil"--almost certainly will prove too nebulous, for one thing. For another, it will be very, very easy for many of the targeted incumbents on the Democratic side at least to pull a Clay Davis and ascribe the goo-goo opposition to racism, rather than than their spectacular track records of corruption. If Koch and his allies were smart, they'd seek backing from African-American and Latino political organizations.

Perhaps a better approach would be to present a "reform pledge" to all candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, calling for sweeping changes to how business is done in Albany: this list might be a good start. Of course, this strategy only works if there's enough money behind the implied threat: if you don't live up to your promises, we're going to drive you out of office and wreck your career. Absent a durable marriage of high-minded principle and brass-knuckle politicking, any new stab at state government reform is as surely doomed as the last try--in 2006, when a crusading state attorney general named Eliot Spitzer promised us all that "On Day One, Everything Changes." Needless to say, nothing did.


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