Ed Koch: The Steamroller

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Two weeks ago, Gov. Spitzer—a self-described “steamroller”—appeared before the Association For A Better New York (ABNY) in front of the largest crowd, about 650 people, that I can recall at an ABNY breakfast, and wowed the audience with a bravura performance. Using slides and speaking extemporaneously, Spitzer put on the best and most convincing dog and pony show that I have seen in years.

 I am one of Gov. Spitzer’s supporters and friends. After he serves as New York’s Governor for eight or 12 years, I hope to see him running for and winning the presidency, as FDR did. If he serves as governor for 12 years, I doubt that I’ll be around to help. I’d be 94. How quickly time has gone. I have no complaints; it has been a wonderful ride and there is still a little more time left. But enough about me.
Before he took the lectern at the ABNY breakfast, the Governor said to me, “I know you didn’t agree with me on my position on the selection of the Comptroller, but I can tell you we have really had some enormous successes since then.” Indeed he has. In a very brief time—two months—Spitzer has achieved legislation that his predecessor, Gov.
Pataki, was unable to achieve, including workers’ compensation revisions that provide for lower employer premiums and higher employee benefits. I really would like to see the details because it sounds like an oxymoron. There is also agreement on civil commitment for sex offenders (pedophiles) who are considered still dangerous to society if released after serving their prison sentences. A third accomplishment is an agreement to enact an ethics bill that among other matters eliminates so-called “member items.” Individual favored members of the legislature are given the right to designate the expenditure of millions of dollars for projects in their districts, which are not debated and are often nothing more than pure “pork.” It is a costly political disease that infects the U.S. Congress as well and still not adequately addressed there.

 I have no doubt that the passage of this year's state budget, which is normally delayed for weeks after the passage date mandated in the state constitution, will occur on time because it is in the interest of the Assembly and State Senate leadership to convey to the voters of this state that they too are aware of their responsibilities and intend to display their leadership qualities as well.

 All in all, these accomplishments in such a short time are astonishing. While I thought the Governor’s taking on the state legislature as aggressively as he has was a mistake, I have come to the conclusion that the mistake was mine. That was brought home to me by the statement of Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. At a press conference announcing the agreement on legislation for civil confinement for sex offenders, The New York Times, reported, “’steamrolling works,’ said Joseph Bruno, the Senate majority leader, referring to a machine the new governor has likened himself to.” Adding to the compliments offered the governor by legislative leaders was that of Republican State Senator Dale Volker who said of him this week, “He’s a pretty tough dude.” That comes from the toughest dude in the Senate.

 At the ABNY breakfast, the new governor did something really new, for any governor. He took on one of the strongest lobbies in New York, the joint forces of 1199, the powerhouse hospital union led by its president, Dennis Rivera, who is stepping down to become chairman of a new national health care union, and Kenneth Raske, head of the political arm of the hospitals in New York State known as the Greater New York Hospital Association. The governor wants to cut the ballooning costs of Medicaid, now taking $48.7 billion out of New York’s 2007/08 estimated budget and causing increases in real estate taxes throughout the state to pay the local Medicaid share, exhausting localities’ financial ability to fund other needed expenses. The governor pointed out that he is proposing a one percent cut in the Medicaid budget, and also pointed out that one of those hospitals attacking him—the now-combined Columbia Presbyterian and New York Cornell hospitals—pays its top eight executives more than $20 million in salaries. The state of New York spends $9,607 on average on Medicaid patients, while California spends $3,612.

 The public is wildly enthusiastic in favor of the demeanor of our new governor. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 61 percent said Spitzer’s way is good for the people. I now join those who, like Joe Bruno, have come to the conclusion that every now and then, a steamroller in the hands of a first-rate operator can accomplish a lot and, in the slogan words of Martha Stewart, it is “a good thing.” Keep it up, dude, you’re doing just fine.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch can be heard every Friday at 6 p.m. on Bloomberg Radio.

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