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He’s also a power player. Add whiskey and cigars to Koch’s table at Bello Restaurant and you would have thought you were in a smoke-filled room at a long-ago Democratic Party meeting. To Koch’s left was LoCicero, 82, a weathered Italian-American in a fat red-and-blue tie. Pete Piscitelli, also 82, once a powerful Albany lobbyist, sat on Koch’s other side. Across the table were Andy Kriss, 65, deputy police commissioner under Koch, and Peter Aschkenasy, 70, a longtime Koch friend who sits on a handful of high-profile not-for-profit boards in the city.
Koch wore hearing aids and a red tie. Every so often he flubbed a name. When he couldn’t quite make out a question, LoCicero would lean in and repeat it for him, sometimes holding his arm.
“This is an unusually good restaurant,” Koch remarked as he ate his appetizer of roasted red peppers with anchovies.
The old-school Jewish and Italian Democrats meet for dinner each election night, and have for decades. They also meet for lunch every Sunday, often joined by former New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, among others. They rendezvous at Koch’s house in Greenwich Village, and then go out — east to Union Square Café, or to Aquagrill in SoHo.
Koch particularly likes duck. “And garlic,” LoCicero noted.
The conversation at the table moved fast, the restaurant was noisy, and at times it seemed like Koch was getting left behind. But when Koch spoke about Turner’s upset victory in New York’s 10th Congressional District after his endorsement of the candidate, the floor belonged to the mayor.
“I believe Obama was not sufficiently supportive of Israel,” Koch began, explaining how he wound up backing Turner for the seat, whose district boundaries include parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
Given the district’s large Orthodox Jewish population, Koch said he saw an opportunity to turn the special election into a “referendum” rejecting Obama’s Israel policy. Koch said this on television, and soon received a call from Turner, a retired businessman with little political background. Koch agreed to cross party lines and back Turner if Turner agreed to push Koch’s message on Israel, and to oppose Republican efforts to privatize Social Security and Medicare. The two put their pact in writing.
Turner’s Democratic opponent, David Weprin, himself an Orthodox Jew, called Koch, and asked why he’d chosen Turner to send his message to the White House. Koch told Weprin it wouldn’t have worked. He recalls thinking, “You’re just another Jewish Democrat from New York.” But he held his tongue.
Even sugarcoated, the message stung. “He was pissed,” Koch recalled.