Volume 16 • Issue 18 | Sept 30 - Oct 06, 2003

What’s he doin’? Koch backing Bush

By Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Former Mayor Ed Koch in his Midtown office

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

However, now that Hizzoner is saying he’s backing President George W. 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. His endorsement of the president garnered national 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 Downtown Express, Koch elaborated on why he’s endorsing Bush. “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 at the Regent Wall Street 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.

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.”

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.

“He stands firmly against terror. On CNN he called Hamas ‘soldiers in the enemy side in the war on terror and they should expect casualties.’ ”

Schmeltzer said Dean later admitted “soldiers” was a wrong choice of words, but that the idea and his “conscience” were correct.

Regarding the Bush Doctrine, Schmeltzer said, “If there’s an imminent threat, Governor Dean believes the U.S. should get involved. Governor Dean has been proved correct that Iraq did not pose an immediate threat…. One of the main threats is Afghanistan, where the Taliban is reconstituting itself.”

Although it is not the first time Koch has backed a Republican, it’s the first time he’s endorsed one for president. Of past G.O.P.’ers he’s supported, Koch said the list isn’t 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.

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.”

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 who ran for City Council in 2001. “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.”

“If they invite me, I’ll consider it at that time,” Koch said. “But I don’t expect to be invited.”

Koch said while he’s not a fan of Attorney General John Ashcroft like he was of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Jr., he feels 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.”

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, another “klatch” member, said, “I’ve been watching Koch for 40 years…. He’s a moderate Democrat. But he thinks the most important thing is the survival of the country and he would rather place his life in the hands of Bush than any of the 10 [Democratic candidates].”

On a recent 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. They’re at Union Sq. Monday nights, as well. As Meyers and Griggs offered them occasional encouragement, a group of skateboard punks were taking turns with a bullhorn, slamming the administration.

Started in May, the group, the No Police State Coalition, is an amalgam 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 police permit.

“Koch himself saw this [banner] at ground zero? Wow! That’s great,” 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.

Filled in by a reporter about the coalition’s theories, Koch said, “They may be kooks, but they’re reflective of what non-kooks…what people on the left are thinking.”



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