Saturday, February 2, 2013

Libertarians mourn the passing of fmr. NYC Mayor Ed Koch

A true Giuliani-ite, before Giuliani-ism was cool

by Clifford F. Thies

Ed Koch, who served as Mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, passed away Thursday night, at the age of 88. Koch (rhymes, fittingly, with "scotch") was elected Mayor following a period of fiscal mismanagement, in turn connected to the rise municipal labor unions and welfare as a way of life. Prior city administrations had caved to increasingly ridiculous union demands, in large part because the unions controlled the Democratic Party. Liberal Republican John Lindsay, a reformer, proved himself completely useless. Then, Abe Beame, a machine-Democrat, was less than useless, and by resorting to borrowing to meet union demands, put the city into a financial hole from which it could not extricate itself.

By 1975, the city was no longer able to borrow on reasonable terms, and looked for a federal bailout. But, the federal government refused the city's entreaty. "Drop Dead," President Gerald Ford was quoted. So, under the supervision of a state authority (making what happened a structured bankruptcy), the city had no choice but to balance its budget. While no dramatic cuts can be identified, and there were some revenue items, mostly what the city did to balance its budget was freeze spending and hiring.

It was in the next Mayoral election that Koch entered the scene. He ran on a "law and order" platform, generally to the right of the other Democrats. The bad shape in which the city found itself, and the split of the left-wing vote within the Democratic primary, enabled Koch to eke out a victory, which was tantamount to winning the election. For the next twelve years, the city did o.k. Still, the unionized municipal unions, the welfare pimps, and the various hard-left elements of the Democratic Party coveted a return to the borrow, tax and spend policies of the past. In 1989, they united around a candidate - David Dinkins - and defeated Koch in the primary. The city then returned to the fiscal abyss from which it had extricated itself during the prior generation.

Since Dinkins, New York City has enjoyed a generation of Republican or Independent leadership, under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Spending has mostly been kept under control, the worst tax rates were reduced under Giuliani, and - during a time of reform nationwide - work largely replaced welfare also under Giuliani. True, Bloomberg is not as outspoken as either Koch or Giuliani, being a more sophisticated, corporate fellow, instead of an up-from-nothing, tough and street-wise fellow. But, Bloomberg has proven himself a master of keeping the city together during a very challenging period.

It is easy, after twenty years of Republican and Independent leadership, to forget how instrumental was Koch in turning around the fortunes of New York City. Would New York City have followed the decline of once great American cities, exemplified by Detroit? Fortunately, we will never know the answer to that question. Unfortunately, the question before us with regard to New York City (and so many other American cities, and even some states), is will it?

1 comment:

John Morris said...

I agree with that, Koch gets far too little credit for the job he did- and the people who put the city in the tank get far too little blame.