Ed Koch Still Wants To Matter

Ex-New York Mayor Plans To Enter '12 Fray for Obama

Still Packing a Punch? Former New York Mayor Ed Koch still carries cachet with Jewish voters. Will he be Barack Obama’s secret weapon in Florida this fall, or a double-edged sword?
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Still Packing a Punch? Former New York Mayor Ed Koch still carries cachet with Jewish voters. Will he be Barack Obama’s secret weapon in Florida this fall, or a double-edged sword?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 11, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012.
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With that, Koch said, he decided to back Obama. He said that he had always supported Obama’s domestic policy agenda, and that there was no point in holding out. Still, he said he thought he had done the right thing in the Turner episode.

“I have no regrets about it,” Koch said.

Koch said that he had been asked to travel to Florida for Obama after Labor Day. (The Obama campaign would not comment on Koch’s planned Florida trip.) He will be one of a deep roster of high-profile officials doing Jewish outreach for the Obama campaign in Florida, including Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Before Koch’s star turn at some retirement community assembly hall in Delray Beach, however, he faced a test of his vote-bringing power the night of his dinner in two congressional districts that overlapped with the Turner district, which was broken up in the redistricting process.

As voting ended, Koch ordered an iced espresso.

In a Brooklyn race that included a small part of the former Turner district, Koch backed Hakeem Jeffries, a New York State Assemblyman running against Charles Barron, a New York City councilman known for his harsh criticism of Israel. Jeffries won handily.

In Queens, however, the race was tighter. Koch had backed Rory Lancman, a relatively young New York State Assemblyman who made his hawkish position on Israel the centerpiece of his campaign.

In fact, Lancman’s opponents had hit him for talking too much about Israel in the primary, and particularly for a mailer the campaign distributed that featured a masked gunman, nuclear missiles, American and Israeli flags, what might be an exploding car and a granite-faced Lancman, all under the phrase, “It’s A Dangerous World.”

Lancman lacked the backing of the county Democratic Party. When the polls closed at 9 p.m. it was quickly clear that he had been crushed, earning just 28% of the vote.

Still, speaking days after his loss, Lancman said he thought Koch’s support had helped. “I’m confident that almost every voter who went to the polls for whom Israel is a very high priority were voting for me, and Ed Koch’s [endorsement] played a large role in that,” he said.

Lancman’s failure to win could mean that Koch’s endorsement of Turner in a similar district last fall wasn’t as decisive a factor in the Republican’s win as some observers thought. Or not. There were plenty of factors besides Koch’s endorsement at play in the Lancman race, including a growing Asian population. Grace Meng, who won the primary, would be the city’s first Asian-American congresswoman.

“Endorsements generally are like chicken soup when you’re sick,” said Evan Stavisky, a partner at the New York political consultancy The Parkside Group, who personally supported one of Lancman’s rivals in the Queens primary. “It can’t hurt, it just may not cure the common cold.”

As for Koch, his sights are set far beyond Queens.

“Forget about New York City,” his old friend Piscitelli said. “He’s the king of the Jews in the whole country.”

“I never said that,” Koch said.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


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