Koch's Comments: NY needs change

Recent governors have not made their mark as giants in the field of social progress.

ed koch 88 (photo credit: )
ed koch 88
(photo credit: )
Ed Koch, former legendary Jewish mayor of New York City, continues his JPost blog. The people have spoken, and two new political phenomena have occurred, one for New York -- Eliot Spitzer, Democrat, now governor, and another for the country -- Democrats now control both Houses of Congress. In his campaign for governor, Eliot Spitzer made clear that he intends to be an agent for change. He promised change would begin on Day One of his administration. I believe him, and so do millions of New Yorkers who are tired of being represented by a dysfunctional state legislature that is the butt of jokes throughout the state. The legislature in Albany simply cannot get things done for the people of New York. In the past, the Empire State enjoyed a reputation for electing legislators and governors who were on the cutting edge of social progress. But those illustrious names are from long ago -- F.D.R. and Al Smith. While we have had a number of good governors since those earlier times, they did not make their mark as giants in the field of social progress. For me, in the modern era, the governor who stands tallest is Hugh Carey. His great achievement was saving both the City and State of New York -- both near collapse -- from bankruptcy in the mid 70s. I served as mayor for 12 years, 1978 through 1989, overlapping almost completely Carey's two terms as governor from 1975 through 1982. I, together with Congressman Charles Rangel, had the privilege to serve in the House of Representatives at the same time as Carey, and Charlie and I were his first two Congressional supporters. Hugh Carey has never been given the full credit due him for his brilliant service as governor. History will undoubtedly recognize his fine work. Will Eliot Spitzer become a great governor? He performed brilliantly as attorney general. He was fearless, using laws and the strength of his personality to tame many Wall Street miscreants at a time when Wall Street excesses dominated the news, and individual CEOs were pillaging their own companies and swindling their stockholders. Eliot earned his title, the Sheriff of Wall Street, by curbing many of those excesses. Now he has been given an even greater opportunity: to find a way to curb the gross excesses of the state legislature, both the Assembly and Senate, and those of their leaders, Democrat Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. If he is to succeed, Governor Spitzer will need the help of the citizens of this state. The two legislative leaders, Silver and Bruno, although of different parties, will have no trouble collaborating to prevent Spitzer from promulgating urgently needed ethical guidelines for both Houses. They will override his vetoes whenever he disagrees with their proposed legislation and threatens their power. Two obvious problems must be addressed regarding the conduct of these two men. Shelly Silver is a partner in a law firm. Legislation that is needed to curb the excesses of lawyers in this state will never see the light of day as long as Silver maintains his law partnership. Some estimate his income from that law partnership at $1 million annually. Bruno in the conduct of his private business is far too close to lobbying interests, particularly in the horse track racing business regulated by the state. Legislators should be required to give up outside employment and serve their constituents as full-time legislators. Their salaries should be made commensurate with Congressional salaries. In addition, redistricting of Assembly and Senatorial districts -- which occurs every ten years -- should be made non-partisan and drawn by former judges, and in any event, by a panel independent of the legislature. Today, district lines are decided by each House and drawn to protect incumbents with very few districts actually "in play" during any legislative election. The lines drawn are intended to and do assure the reelection of the incumbents. The average number of incumbents defeated is less than 3 percent in most elections. To succeed on the redistricting issue, Spitzer must get the legislators to act against what they will perceive as their interest. He, therefore, will need the support of all of the good government groups and the citizens at large. Legislators must be made to understand that they may be voted out of office if they oppose his proposed legislation to create a non-partisan panel empowered to draw districts that are not gerrymandered. In the case of the US Congress, now under the control of Democrats, we should witness a major effort to enact legislation that will provide national comprehensive medical coverage for all Americans, including the 46 million presently uninsured Americans. We also should see legislation that will direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael O. Leavitt, to use the purchasing power of the US to buy prescription drugs from drug manufacturers at the lowest possible prices as the result of bulk purchases, similar to the powers used by the Veterans Administration in purchasing prescription drugs. The Republicans had previously initiated and adopted legislation barring the government from using its purchasing powers to get the lowest prices, protecting prescription drug companies rather than consumers. The Democratic majority should put the federal government back in the business of creating affordable housing for low-income people, an area from which it withdrew, beginning under President Carter and then substantially under President Reagan. It should exercise its oversight powers, particularly on contracts entered into by the Bush administration with companies providing services of any kind in Iraq, including Halliburton and Bechtel Corporation, the largest military contractors. Those companies should be subject to hearings to hold them accountable for price gouging and other unlawful practices. Lots more needs to be done, both in New York and nationally. But these are good places to start. * * * Previous entries: George Bush is my hero