By Newfield, Jack
The Nation , Vol. 244
MAYOR DALEY IS ALIVE AND WELL IN N.Y.C.
New York City's corruption scandals are now intheir second year. A borough president has committed suicide. A city official has been convicted of taking bribes next to the urinals of the best yuppie restaurants. A failed quack sex therapist has admitted to being a bagman. A Democratic Party leader has been revealed to be an intimate friend of a mobster who murdered a police officer. A former Miss America has taken the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions about how her lover obtained $150 million in city contracts. The crime rate among Democratic Party bosses in New York, 50 percent, is now higher than for any other identifiable grouping in the world.
The time has come to try to understand how itcame to pass that a "reform' Mayor has presided over a government that resembles a parody of Dallas or Dynasty, and to suggest a few remedies to the chronic corruption that has afflicted one-party cities like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.
Since the age of television and the rise ofmedia consultants like David Garth, political scientists have been composing the epitaph for big-city political machines. But at least in New York the machine has proved to be durable and adaptable. It elected Edward Koch as Mayor in 1977, and its alliance with City Hall is the principal cause of the present scandals.
Koch announced his candidacy for Mayor asan underdog reformer. He campaigned against the machine and for the death penalty, a double message that helped him win Manhattan and the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. His slogan was, "After eight years of charisma [John Lindsay] and four years of the clubhouse [Abraham Beame], why not try competence?'
The machine backed Beame, but Beame finished thirdand there was a runoff between Koch and Mario Cuomo. Party bosses. They all endorsed him in exchange for promises of patronage and access, and Koch defeated Cuomo.
The machine made Kochcome to it even after it had backed the losing candidate, because the machine is an infrastructure of permanent institutions. It contains law firms, landlords who make contributions, judges who channel judicial patronage to clubhouse lawyers, printing companies that get all the petition and literature business, community newspapers that receive judicial advertising, and friendly unions. In the Bronx, it controls the community school boards and picks principals on the basis of politics, not education.
The machine is rooted in the values of power and greed,just as Wall Street is rooted in the values of greed and power. The inside traders in both subcultures are natural products of their environment.
Mario Cuomo refused to ask Brooklyn Democratic bossMeade Esposito for the machine's backing in 1977 because he understood that it would compromise the independence of any future government. Cuomo had a family, his religion, his law practice and a rich interior existence. He knew his life would not be over if he lost an election. But the more one-dimensional Koch had a need to win at any cost. He capitulated for power, not money. He knew as well as Cuomo what Esposito and the other bosses were all about. (Esposito is under indictment brought by the United States Attorney's office for bribery, fraud and conspiracy.) Koch had started his career by defeating Tammany boss Carmine DeSapio in a campaign that promised the abolition of patronage and the establishment of expert screening committees to choose commissioners based on merit. In 1974, Koch congratulated me on an article I had written for The Village Voice exposing Esposito's ties to organized crime. He then began his own crusade against Esposito's influence and started to needle me to write more frequently about the Brooklyn boss.
But by the time his second book, Politics, was published,in 1985, Koch was boasting about his secret covenant with Esposito to win the 1977 runoff. …