Magazine article Tikkun

An Interview with Ed Koch

Magazine article Tikkun

An Interview with Ed Koch

Article excerpt


Jack Newfield

Jack Newfield is the author of six books and a columnist for the New York Post. His three-hour documentary film on Robert Kennedy aired on the Discovery Network.

Ed Koch was mayor of New York City from 1978 through 1989. Since 1989 he has published twelve books and remains a high-profile public presence.

NEWFIELD: Mayor Koch, do you feel your views on race have evolved since you and I first met in 1962 or 1963?

KOCH: Absolutely. In 1964 I went to Mississippi and I represented young blacks and whites who were doing voter registration. Marion Wright [later Marion Wright Edelman] was in fact the chief lawyer in Jackson when I was there. I spent eight days there.

NEWFIELD: I think you wrote a piece for the Village Voice about it.

KOCH: Yeah. On three occasions I represented young men and women who were arrested for sitting-in and who had been savagely assaulted. They were being charged in criminal court for resisting arrest. It was quite an experience, very moving.

My involvement, as long as I've been in politics, has been in support of integration. I never believed in preferential racial treatment, which separated me from a number of people in the Democratic Party who did believe in it.

NEWFIELD: You mean affirmative action and/or quotas?

KOCH: Well, affirmative action is just a synonym for racial preferential treatment. I don't know of any affirmative action program that would do what I would accept, which is to reach out and encourage people to apply on their merits. Affirmative action is just a way of concealing what it is that you really want to do, which is to provide extra points for being black or Hispanic or a woman so as to give you preference over a white male. I'm against that.

I believe that you can have preferential treatment for poverty, and that would benefit blacks and Hispanics more than whites, but there are poor whites as well. In my book, you can't do it on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. Well, that's always provided somewhat of a problem for me in Democratic primaries and so forth. It's always been to me a miracle that I ever won a primary in New York City. A miracle! I would always win general elections, except for my first one, when I ran for the Assembly, and when I ran for governor, but primaries were always a real challenge because it brings out the left more than the middle-of-the-road or conservative Democratic voter. And, of course, I also lost the 1989 mayoral primary to David Dinkins.

NEWFIELD: And you felt racial preferences were more controversial than your support for capital punishment?

KOCH: I thought that both issues deserved attention. My opposition to racial preferences was not simply based on a question of fairness--[in that preferences were] excluding whites who were similarly situated (like Appalachian whites, to take a large group who are in poverty and lack education and so forth)--but I believed it was counterproductive. It created animosities that didn't have to exist.

NEWFIELD: Do you regret any decisions dealing with race that you made while mayor?

KOCH: I regret not taking sufficient time to explain it all to everybody--to my critics, who said we were harming minorities in particular when we closed Sydenham Hospital in 1980. I thought about Sydenham quite extensively over the years. My health people and my budget people came in and said, "Mayor, Sydenham is killing people. The hospital itself is antiquated from a building point of view. It has steps to the emergency room, it has water in the basement. It's a terrible facility. But that's not as important as the fact that people are dying as a result of the care they get in Sydenham." I don't know whether it was apocryphal or not, but they said that no thoracic surgery had ever resulted in a living patient.

It was the most expensive per patient hospital in our whole system, which was in desperate need of money. …

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