What’s he doin’? Koch backs Bush


By Lincoln Anderson

When he was mayor, Ed Koch’s signature question was “How’m I doin’?”

But now that Hizzoner is saying he’s backing President Bush for reelection, many are bound to wonder, “What’s he doin’?”

A Democrat and three-term New York City mayor from 1978-’89, Koch, 79, says he’s been a supporter of W. for the last year, though that may come as news to many. However, his endorsement of Bush registered attention recently after Koch stated it on some TV news shows.

On Sept. 12 on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes,” on a segment on 9/11, Koch said, “I think [Bush has] been terrific. And I have never voted in the past for a Republican president…. But I am voting for George Bush this time around. And I will tell you why. He has created what is now known as the Bush Doctrine, equal to the Monroe Doctrine. And what is the Bush Doctrine? That we will go after the terrorists and the countries that harbor them. And he’s kept his commitment, unlike anybody else in the world. And certainly unlike any of the nine or so Democratic candidates for president. And the worst one is Howard Dean. I mean, that’s McGovern II.”

In an interview with The Villager last week, Koch elaborated on why he’s endorsing Bush. Again, Koch stressed it’s because of the so-called Bush Doctrine — that the U.S. has the right to proactively attack any country perceived to be a threat.

“We have gone after two of them, Afghanistan and Iraq, so he means what he says,” said Koch. “I can’t imagine a Democrat doing that.”

Koch said he saw Bush speak a year ago on Wall St. on policing fraudulent accounting after the Enron scandal and liked what he saw. After Bush recognized him in the audience and shouted out “Ed” to him, Koch promised his endorsement.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re doing fine and the next time you run, I am voting for you,’ ” Koch recalled.

Koch said he’s been writing about backing Bush in his e-mail commentary and mentioning it on his Saturday show on Bloomberg radio.

Koch said it was a “reasonable presumption” Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He said chemical and biological agents could have been put on a plane when Iraq flew its air force to Iran after the first Persian Gulf War or taken out of the country in a suitcase or buried.

“Now you have the Democratic candidates attacking [Bush] for what was common sense,” Koch said. “I don’t agree with Bush’s domestic policies. But I believe the single-most overriding issue should be fighting international terrorism. And I don’t think the Democratic leadership has the courage to do it, because they are out there seeking the support of the Democratic left.”

As for Koch’s thoughts on the Democratic frontrunner, not only did Dean not support the war with Iraq, but he recently made comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that didn’t sit well with Koch, among others.

Koch, a staunch supporter of Israel, said, Dean’s statements were “absolutely antithetical, hostile to Israel.” Calling Dean “dangerous,” he said, “I believe what Dean is seeking to do is capture all of the ultra-left…and you do that by attacking Israel. The radical left hates Israel.”

Koch noted Dean has “recanted” after he was the subject of a letter by 34 Democrats denouncing his statements. Koch added that General Wesley Clark’s entry into the race will impact Dean.

“He’s going to be injured by Clark, because [Clark’s] going to make an appeal to the ultra-left,” he said.

Koch: Banner is ‘outrage’

In a similar vein, Koch said, he’s disappointed none of the Democratic candidates are protesting a banner he saw at ground zero during the recent second anniversary ceremony that read, “The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11.”

Koch was stopped in his car on West St., en route to an interview with Jerry Nachman on a roof overlooking ground zero, when he saw the offensive sign.

“I felt like getting out and horse-whipping them,” Koch said. “To accuse the president of killing 2,600 people…it’s an outrage. That’s the cry of the ultra-radical left. Those are the people that vote in the Democratic primary that Dean is appealing to…. If you talk in religious terms, it’s a sin to the memory of those who died.”

Koch later blasted the banner on CNN in an interview with Wolf Blitzer.

Dean campaign responds

Eric Schmeltzer, Dean’s New York spokesperson, disagreed with Koch’s painting Dean’s base as the ultra-left.

“Howard Dean is drawing a number of voters into the campaign and the political process. They’re voters that identify themselves as Republican, as Democrat, as independent,” he said. “On the Israel question, Governor Dean supports the position that America has supported for the last 50 years…unequivocal support of Israel’s right to exist and to defend herself.

“What he said is the United States must be fair-minded at the negotiating table,” Schmeltzer continued. “That’s something that presidents who have been involved in trying to settle the problem have held…. He stands firmly against terror.”

known to cross party lines

On his endorsing Bush, though it’s not the first time Koch has backed a Republican, it’s the first time he’s backed one for president. Of past G.O.P.’ers he’s supported, Koch said the list isn’t really that long, mentioning John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg, George Pataki, Al D’Amato and “a couple on Staten Island — when I was mayor you needed help from both parties,” he noted of the latter.

“That’s a half dozen people that I’ve supported since ’63, when I became district leader,” Koch said. “I’ve supported thousands of Democrats.” Sometimes, when Koch endorsed Republicans it was personal; the Democratic candidate had not supported him before when Koch was running for election.

In addition, angering local Democrats hoping to win control of the state Senate, Koch endorsed Republican Andrew Eristoff over Democrat Liz Krueger two years ago in a race won by Krueger. Koch said he supported Eristoff because he was a “superb” candidate, “far better” than Krueger, who he says “hasn’t gotten anything done” since she’s been in the senate.

Koch stressed he still supports the Democratic position on social policy:

“The Democrats believe you must give a helping hand to the people who are left behind; the Republicans say I made it on my own; you should, too,” he explained. However, recalling how he, as he put, it, “held my nose and voted for McGovern” for president, Koch said, “I’m a liberal, but a liberal with sanity.”

On the other hand, Koch objected to how Republican presidents, Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan and George W. Bush, are always portrayed as stupid.

Reactions of local politicos to news of Koch’s endorsement of Bush ranged from shock to sarcasm.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” said Brad Hoylman, president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats. “Mayor Koch’s endorsement is pretty important. I wish he would get on the same page with other Democrats because we have to be united to defeat Bush. I hope he doesn’t go to the Republican Convention. Because the Republican Convention will be in New York, the nation’s attention will be focused here, so it’s very important.”

“Who cares?” said Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats. “He’s been endorsing losers for the last several years.”

“I have no intention of going to the Republican Convention,” Koch said. “If they invite me, I’ll consider it at that time. But I don’t expect to be invited.”

Watching Koch change

Ed Gold, an early leader in the Village Independent Democrats, the club where Koch got his political start, has observed Koch change over the decades. Gold was Koch’s treasurer in his winning 1963 race against Tammany leader Carmine De Sapio for Greenwich Village Democratic district leader. Today, Gold is a member of the “Koch klatch,” a group of Koch administration veterans and others that meet biweekly to talk politics over lunch.

Gold said Koch was himself an “ultra-liberal” when he ran for district leader and then challenged Bill Passannante for Assembly; then became more moderate when he was in Congress from 1968-’77; then decided he had to be more centrist when he became mayor; then there’s post-9/11 Koch.

“Since 9/11, Koch has become a neo-con, really right-wing, xenophobic,” Gold said. “He feels Bush has been a strong commander in chief and he supports his whole entourage, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice. The other thing that concerns me is in addition to supporting Bush, he’s become a supporter of [Attorney General] John Ashcroft. He supports the Patriot Act. National security is his main concern.

“He’ll probably throw me out of the lunch group,” Gold said.

Gold said he knows Koch has been thinking of being part of Democrats for Bush.

Koch said while he’s not a fan of Ashcroft like he was of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Jr., he does feel the Patriot Act is necessary.

“I think that overall the Patriot Act has assisted the fight against terror,” he said. “The only way you can stop terror is through infiltration and we’ve had a lot of restrictions on infiltration. I believe that the wholesale attack of the Patriot Act is dead wrong, Dammit, we’re at war! Ashcroft is not the enemy. Al Qaeda is.”

Keen Berger, the Village’s new female Democratic district leader, has known Koch for 35 years. She and her late husband, Martin, who was the Village’s male district leader before Koch, lived in the same building as Koch and were active with him in V.I.D. Defeating Bush is one of her main priorities along with improving the Village’s quality of life.

“Koch’s endorsement makes me sad, but not surprised,” Berger said. “Koch endorsed D’Amato. He’s endorsed Republicans and people who are conservative for a decade. I knew Koch when he was a liberal, a leader of progressives…. I think Koch got too enamored of his own views and his own opinions and strayed from the bedrock integrity that should be true for every political leader, strayed from the base from which he came.”

How much weight does Koch’s endorsement still carry, either in the city or nationally? It’s been 14 years since Koch has been mayor and people who knew him when he was mayor are aging, noted Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant.

“He gets a Jew of prominence,” Sheinkopf said of Bush’s gaining Koch’s support. “For many people, Koch still symbolizes New York.”

Koch’s endorsement is pretty localized, Sheinkopf said. Traditionally, Koch’s endorsement had resonance with outer-borough Catholics, he said. Sheinkopf noted there’s a growing trend for Jews to vote Republican, even if they are registered Democrats.

Banner night at Union Sq.

Last Thursday night, Joel Meyers and Dennis Griggs, two of the three protesters Koch saw at ground zero with their “The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11” banner two weeks ago were at Union Sq. with the omnipresent banner.

Started in May, the group, the No Police State Coalition, includes a small core of communists and conspiracy theorists united against the war with Iraq and the Patriot Act and in support of the right to march in the streets without a permit.

Told of Koch’s calling their banner an outrage and a sin against the victims of 9/11, Meyers, 59, of E. Canal St., said, “I think Bush’s lies dishonored the dead….

“I think this banner makes him fell pretty insecure,” Meyers said of Koch. “He’s not that naïve. This is about oil and power and control.”

Asked if he was part of the ultra-radical left Koch says Dean is courting, Meyers, described as a Marxist or Maoist by a source who has known him for years but requested anonymity, said he was inclined to vote for Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, feeling he’s “the most consistently antiwar.”

“Koch himself saw this [banner] at ground zero? Wow!” said Griggs, 57, wearing an “Impeach Bush” button.

“When the war happened, we just decided to get together and stay in people’s faces,” he said. Griggs is a devotee of a book called “The Biggest Secret,” which alleges all U.S. presidents are related to the British royals’ bloodline and are cousins of Adolph Hitler to boot.

“The way I look at it, we got to get these cousins the hell out of our lives,” said Griggs, who lives in the E. 20s.

Of the quirky coalition, Koch said, “They may be kooks, but they’re reflective of what non-kooks…what people on the left are thinking.”