Monday, August 09, 2010

Ed Koch's Quixotic Crusade

Ed Koch, to his credit, is not spending his dotage sipping tea and reminiscing about the grand old days. Instead, perhaps in an attempt to purge unpleasant memories from his own last soiree in elected office, he has launched a campaign to clean up a city that he so famously disdained-even while campaigning to be governor. The NY Times reports on Koch's travels: "“Throw the bums out!” Mr. Koch, the former mayor of New York City, shouted from the steps of a city hall 400 miles from his Greenwich Village home. The bums in question were four local politicians who had failed to sign on to what could be Mr. Koch’s most difficult campaign yet: to remake the ineffective government in Albany. In front of a lone local news camera and a few curious onlookers, he called out each offender with a jumbo photo."

But sign what? The what turns out to be the Koch reform pledge: "A civic coalition seeking to improve how Albany governs is asking incumbents and candidates for state office this year to pledge publicly to back strict fiscal controls on state spending, stronger ethics and financial disclosure regulations, and a nonpartisan system for drawing legislative and Congressional districts."
At the end of the day, however, the "Uprising," is, on the contrary, more of a top down affair-and lacks connection to anything grassroots or ideologically substantial. As a result, the reform effort comes across, at best, as a vanity plate for the former mayor; but at worst, it is an attempt by to whitewash Koch's own past-by someone who left office because of an almost total disregard for corruption in and around his administration.

In addition, owing to lack of any real mass sentiment at its core, "Uprising," amounts to little more than an electoral bone thrown to the party that's currently out of power-one not known for ethical scruples when they did have a leadership perch. As the Democrat Chronicle (via Liz) points out: "All Republicans in the state Senate have signed on, as well as many in the Assembly. Traditionally, the minority party has always embraced reform."

So, let's give the old lion his due-and hope that we too have the energy and awareness when we reach Koch's age to launch our own quixotic quest. However, the need to change the ruling mindset in Albany is serious business-as the Times' piece on pension reform fighting this weekend makes more than abundantly clear.

Having a wise-cracking and garulous old pol barnstorm the state with his, "Throw the bumns out," cry, is not what we need to alter the kind of political dynamic in New York that has led us down a fiscally unsutainable path. We need intellectual rigor melded to the kind of grass roots anger that old Ed simply misdirects in his lame efforts to capture his old relevance. It will take more than that old gang of ours to change the politics of New York-and if it doesn't come soon, heaven help us all.