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The Koch Factor

April 12, 2010

When people think of the quintessential New York City mayor with a powerful persona and patriotic appeal, Rudy Guiliani is most likely to be mentioned first. But a person with an equal if not greater claim on the merits is Ed Koch.

Koch was a combat infantryman in WWII. Like many of his generation, he never made a big deal out of his service. His biography simply notes that he served with the 104th Infantry Regiment that landed Cherbourg, France in September 1944. When you check the record of this regiment, you find that it was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the war as part of the breakout from Normandy and the Battle for Brest.

Koch later had epic political battles with none other than Mario Cuomo. He beat Cuomo in the Democratic primary for mayor in 1977 and then served three terms as mayor during a time when the city was struggling with severe financial problems and crime.

Koch is substantive, but he’s also someone who has skirted on the edge of being a gadfly at times. (He was a television judge on “The People’s Court” after Judge Wapner and before Judge Judy.)

Why the retrospective? Koch, at 86, is still sharp and engaged. In fact, he’s making waves now in political circles with a behind-the-scenes battle for independent redistricting.

With an independent redistricting commission, the question becomes: What guiding principle will be used to redraw the lines? Koch’s vision for the commission is for it to encourage competitive elections throughout the state.  In a state like New York, which has an overwhelming Democratic enrollment advantage, this means that the lines need to be drawn carefully so that each district to has enough enrolled Republicans to give the party at least a chance at winning an election.

This has the Dems nervous. Assuming they can hold their majority this fall (a big “if” given their performance to date), they see the big reward being the ability to redraw the lines in ways that will benefit them. So as not to impugn the Democrats with dastardly motives, what they are talking about doing is “fair.” In this regard, if you simply superimposed a sheet of translucent graph paper over a map of the state and then adopted the resulting new election districts, it would benefit the Democrats immensely by eliminating districts that were drawn to protect incumbent Republicans.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are beyond nervous. They are stoic. A top Republican told an NT2 editorial board member recently: “Unless we win in the fall, we’re screwed. We need a say in this process or we’ll be done for a generation or more.”

While withholding judgment on the best methodology for redistricting, NT2 believes that Koch is doing a great public service in trying to place this important issue on the front burner in the 2010 election cycle. This is something that all of the candidates for governor must address. This is one topic that cries out for a robust debate in the months ahead.

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