WORLD

The race for New York

Edward Koch loses a bid for a new term

HILARY MACKENZIE September 25 1989
WORLD

The race for New York

Edward Koch loses a bid for a new term

HILARY MACKENZIE September 25 1989

The race for New York

Edward Koch loses a bid for a new term

After a hard-fought campaign in an atmosphere of racial tension, the four former opponents raised their linked hands in a show of unity that served both as a rallying cry for Democratic supporters and a warning to the opposition. On Sept. 13, the morning after Manhattan Borough president David Dinkins won the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City, he appeared with three-term Mayor Edward Koch, city comptroller Harrison Goldin and businessman Richard Ravitch at a rally on the steps of City Hall. Dinkins, 62, hoping to become New York’s first black mayor, clearly will need their support.

In the Nov. 7 general election, Dinkins faces tough opposition from Republican nominee Rudolph Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor with a reputation as a crime-buster. Dinkins, sweat dripping from his forehead, asked the large crowd of supporters: “Have we scraped and struggled to survive nine years of reactionary Republican government in Washington just to hand over our city to the very same forces? No. New York will not become a Republican beachhead in 1989.”

With that, Dinkins prepared for what promises to be a bitterly contested six-week race to steer the country’s largest city into the 1990s. For Koch, the election defeat marked the end of 12 tumultuous years in office, during which

he wrenched the city from economic ruin, but was never able to lift the weight of social problems associated with drugs, racial violence and homelessness. With an estimated 90,000 homeless, 200,000 heroin addicts and 200,000 cocaine, crack and other drug abusers out of a population of 7.4 million, the issues of crime and punishment dominated the Democratic

race. And the killing on Aug. _

23 of a 16-year-old black, YuDinkins: time suf Hawkins, in the largely Italian, working-class Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst by a gang of white teenagers heightened racial tensions.

Dinkins won the nomination with 51 per cent of the vote compared with Koch’s 42 per cent. Ravitch and Goldin straggled far behind with four per cent and three per cent respectively of the 1,060,909 votes cast. On the same day, Giuliani convincingly beat his only rival,

Ronald Lauder, son of the cosmetics giant Estée Lauder, with 67 per cent of the 112,625 Republican votes cast.

But it was Dinkins, who won an estimated 93 per cent of the black vote and captured many disaffected white former Koch supporters, who made the most impressive showing. He is the first recorded black mayoralty candidate in the nation to win as much as 29 per cent of the white vote—including 26 per cent of the Jewish vote. If those trends hold in the November election, Dinkins could well poll enough of the critical white vote to become New York’s next mayor.

The road to Dinkins’s victory was pitted with disbelief that a mild-mannered black, who ran a cautious and uninspired campaign, could unseat the controversial Koch, a Jew who seemed to personify the liberal spirit of many New Yorkers. Throughout the campaign, Dinkins was battered by accusations that his campaign was directionless, that his

speeches lacked spontaneity and that he deliv-

ered them in a boring monotone.

Even on the day that the candidates put their fate into the hands of field workers assigned to turn out the vote, Dinkins’s campaign appeared lacklustre. Stacks of beige, push-button telephones lay unused on a trolley in one of Dinkins’s phone banks in a local union office in lower Manhattan, giving the appearance of a disorganized operation.

Dinkins himself appeared languid when he missed the 5:30 p.m. ferry that was supposed to carry him to his victory party from Staten Island, where he had been meeting commuters pouring out of the boat that carries 85,000 people each day to lower Manhattan. But by the end of the campaign, the worst mark against Dinkins was the fact that he had failed to file his income tax returns from 1969 to

_ 1972. He quickly defused that

issue by admitting that he was

guilty of procrastination—not tax evasion—and said that he had subsequently paid the back taxes.

In the end, he emerged as a gentleman who would make every effort to heal the wounds of a racially bruised city. Said Dinkins in his victory speech: “You voted our hopes and not your fears, and in so doing you said something profound today about the soul and character of this town.” Added New York State Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo: “Virtue was victorious. Now, competence has to win.”

That competence will be put to the test as Dinkins tries to shake his image as a quiet foot

soldier and live up to his pledge to be the “toughest mayor on crime New York has ever seen.” The son of a barbershop owner and a manicurist, he spent his childhood living in Trenton, N.J., and Harlem after his parents divorced when he was 6. Later, he was among the first blacks to be accepted by the Marines during the Second World War.

A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Dinkins practised law before going into city politics, where he has held a number of positions over the past 24 years. As Manhattan borough president since 1986, he earned a reputation as a friend of labor who took strong stands against homelessness and in favor of extended education and prenatal health care. Dinkins is married to the former Joyce Burroughs, the daughter of a former Harlem politician. They have two children—David Jr., 35, and Donna Hoggard, 32.

The usually soft-spoken Dinkins is not a black activist politician in the style of his supporter, former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson. But he openly criticized Koch last month for his treatment of blacks, saying, “The tone and climate of this city does get set at City Hall.” And during a demonstration in Bensonhurst over Hawkins’s death, Dinkins and other blacks weathered the taunts of white bystanders who chanted “Nigger, go home” and mockingly waved watermelons in the air.

For his part, the outspoken Koch, 64, who in the past appealed to voters with his flamboyant style and strident appeals, fought to save his 30-year political career by promising to tone down his rhetoric. And, during the last days of

After a brief endorsement from self-styled sex expert Ruth Westheimer, who promised Koch supporters a “terrific sex life” if they voted for him, Koch moved on to greet a bus stop crowd. Even as a team of 50 well-dressed volunteers operated a computerized phone bank in a last-minute bid to coax 11,000 traditional sup-

porters to vote in hot, humid weather, he ran an underdog’s campaign that had brought him back from political oblivion into a tight two-way race with Dinkins. Said James Capalino, a Koch aide: “Six months ago, Koch was political history. Now the campaign has turned away from his personality, onto leadership and the challenges that the city faces in the next four years.”

the campaign, he pledged to match Dinkins’s vow to heal a divided city. The day before the primary, Koch, walking briskly toward his campaign truck, first told a blue-collar crowd that his poverty-stricken immigrant parents had worked their way into the middle class. Then, his voice quaking from an attack of laryngitis, he shouted, “I wanna be the guy to help make that possible for as many people as possible.”

But the strength of his personality and the streetwise manner that led him to regularly ask commuters at his favorite subway stop, “How’m I doin’?” were not enough to earn him a fourth term. Indeed, the memory of the past

four years, during which Koch suffered a humiliating round of political scandals and watched a once-booming economy fade, may obscure his earlier achievements and his place in history as a reformer. The bald and overweight Koch, a confirmed bachelor, saw several of his appointees to City Hall indicted for

corruption. As well, according to testimony by former employees before a state commission, his program to encourage minorities to enter government degenerated instead into a machine to promote his political allies. In addition, Koch had to preside over one of the nation’s largest social crises during which the number of homeless, AIDS victims and drug users soared.

Koch’s early years were marked by his reformist policies. He earned a reputation as a crisis manager for championing the city’s housing rehabilitation program, promoting a tax increase to hire more police for the city’s dangerous streets and creating the Tactical Narcotics Team to fight drug abuse. Putting a brave face on his defeat last week, Koch told reporters, “I feel as though a burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”

Republican Giuliani, with a reputation as a tough and successful federal prosecutor, campaigned hard to inherit Koch’s mantle, and he took strong stands against crime and drugs. Giuliani, 45, had helped prosecute some of Koch’s political colleagues along with Wall Street insider-trader Ivan Boesky and Mafia leaders. But an early lead in the primary polls soon disintegrated as he reversed an early antiabortion stand to rally behind pro-abortion supporters. Later, he stumbled through his campaign speeches and was mercilessly lampooned by New York's racy tabloids after a gust of wind disheveled the carefully combed hair across his balding pate.

As well, Giuliani faced tough opposition from Lauder. Lauder spent more than $15 million of his family’s cosmetics fortune on the campaign—more than any other candidate. Much of it paid for harsh TV advertisements attacking Giuliani as a liberal hypocrite. Campaigning with her son, Estée Lauder customarily told audiences in seniors’ homes and bingo halls: “I made the ladies beautiful, and my son would like to make New York beautiful.” Many voters, however, appeared more interested in receiving cosmetics samples than in hearing how Lauder would fight crime and violence.

Despite his primary defeat, Lauder vowed to run in the Nov. 7 election as the candidate of New York’s Conservative party. But Giuliani’s serious rival in November will clearly be Dinkins. And it will be an uphill battle for Giuliani, who hopes to become the city’s first Republican mayor since John Lindsay won the 1965 election. Historically, New York’s Democrats, who out„ number Republicans by 5 to 1, £ have easily elected one of their “ own.

Even as Dinkins wiped the g sweat from his brow at the I unity rally last week, Giuliani turned up the temperature of his attacks. Criticizing Dinkins as a “clubhouse politician” with

little to separate him from what he called the corrupt leadership of Koch, Giuliani staked out his turf for the ensuing battle. But although crime, corruption and drugs will be major issues in the coming campaign, the issue of race may well decide who will become New York’s next mayor.

HILARY MACKENZIE