Edward Koch: The Mayor Who Knew Nothing

By Sydney H. Schanberg
New York Newsday, June 26, 1987

It has gone beyond the capacity of even the most gullible. Where before it was only difficult to credit, it has now become impossible to accept the depiction of Edward Koch as The Mayor Who Knew Nothing.

We are asked to believe that all these errant and aberrational and thieving people were committing wrongs all around him and he had no idea. There were stories in the papers about these things and, as everyone knows, Edward Koch reads the papers in search of his name the way horse addicts read The Daily Racing Form in search of a winner, and still he could read no wrong.

After the stories, there came the indictments and convictions and to all this, Edward Koch said he knew nothing. He said no one had brought these matters to his attention when they were happening.

Here is a partial list of the friends, acquaintances, appointees and political associates of The Mayor Who Knew Nothing who are under investigation or on their way to jail: Bess Myerson, Stanley Friedman, Stanley Simon, Anthony Ameruso, Michael Lazar, Lester Shafran, Theodore Teah, Morris Tarshis, Jay Turoff, John McLaughlin.

And here is a partial list of the Koch insiders — senior staff and close personal friends — who also read the papers but who are said to have told him nothing and warned him about nothing: Allen Schwartz, Daniel Wolf, David Garth, Nathan Leventhal, Stanley Brezenoff, David Margolis, Herbert Rickman, Diane Coffey, John LoCicero, Patrick Mulhearn.

The question is: If you have a good friend and you care about him and he seems to have mental blinders about trouble coming, don’t you go to him and, gently or otherwise, take the blinders off?

The story we are asked to give credence to is that nobody in the Koch inner circle had any inkling of any of the corruption and therefore saw no reason to go to the mayor. And that is why this saga has passed the point of believability. 

Because this would require us to see this shrewd and savvy mayor as a fumbling dope and to see his well-informed friends and aides as mentally disabled.

After these many assaults on the public intelligence, can any New Yorker be faulted for concluding that the mayor himself must have smelled something rotten and that some members of his circle must have smelled it, too, and gone to him about it. Otherwise, we would be left with this mental-hospital image of a City Hall where all brains have been lobotomized and all mouths sewn shut.

Most recently, we have been assaulted by the mayor’s version of what he knew and how he behaved about a police intelligence report on Bess Myerson in 1980 and about two letters sent to the mayor’s Department of Investigation in 1984 charging Myerson with improperly influencing the judge in the divorce proceedings of her boyfriend, Carl Capasso.

The mayor says he remembers the then police commissioner, Robert McGuire, coming to his office to give him a “very general” account of the 1980 intelligence report, which found that Myerson had been the source of numerous harassing phone calls and letters, some of them obscene, when a previous boyfriend stopped seeing her. Koch says he viewed the matter as simply a “lover’s quarrel” and didn’t ask for any details.

The importance of this story lies not in the sad and troubled personal behavior that it reveals but in the mayor’s reaction to it. He wants us to believe that the police commissioner have him only a vague account and that he didn’t want to be fully informed. And that he didn’t go to his friend, Bess Myerson, and ask her what was going on.

If you were the police commissioner, and you had brought this report to the mayor because Myerson was his friend, wouldn’t you give the mayor a complete and detailed account — as protection for both him and yourself against charges that the matter wasn’t properly investigated? And if you were the mayor, wouldn’t you have to know everything, so as not to get caught to surprise later with damaging fallout?

As for the two 1984 letters charging misconduct more serious and no longer private, since Myerson had since been named by Koch as cultural affairs commissioner, Henry Stern, the parks commissioner, says he was told about the judge-fixing allegations but didn’t consider them serious and thus didn’t take them to the mayor. Again, the mayor says he knew nothing. And none of those who have now formed a cordon around him will say otherwise. 

Also, no one will release these 1984 letters so that we can see their contents, just as no one would release the recent Tyler report that finally reached the judge-fixing conclusion — until the Village Voice obtained a copy and wrote the story. And even now, no one will release the documents and testimony that formed the basis of the Tyler report.

The Mayor Who Knew Nothing has been the most public politician this state has ever seen, bombarding us with words and jokes and transcripts of press conferences and pictures of himself and speeches on foreign policy and advice about restaurants and wine. But when it comes to documents that might give the public a clue about all the scandals that have marred his administration, his Xerox machines fall dark and silent. As silent as all the sentries who say they never told him anything because they didn’t think the anything was serious at the time.

Or could it be that the shenanigans were a lot worse than we outsiders yet imagine and that the reason for the silence is that the sentries and their charge are scared silly about what might come out?

Sooner or later, the odds say that somebody is going to come forward and come clean.

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