Dump Koch

Posted By admin On 26/11/21

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Dump Koch
Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jim Davis

Barbaro: The People’s Alternative to Koch

First Published:Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 35, September 23-29, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

“When I decided to run for mayor, there were three types of reaction. People who were my friends thought I had lost my senses. People who were not my friends said, ’Good, now he’s gonna get it!’ and people who didn’t know me said, ’Who is this madman?’”

So joked State Assemblyman Frank Barbara in a recent interview with the Village Voice. Since announcing his candidacy, Mr. Barbaro has faced an uphill battle to win the nomination of the Democratic Party against an incumbent mayor which most of the city’s media has pegged as the most popular since New Deal politician, Fiorello Laguardia. With his defeat an almost certainty in both the Democratic primary and general elections in November, Mr. Barbaro has still chosen to run. More importantly, he has been able to gain support from a wide array of groups including the local AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, Americans for Democratic Action, New Democratic Coalition, the New Alliance Party, the Black United Front and many others.

Mr. Barbaro’s decision to go up against the powerful Koch political machinery is both courageous and timely. His emergence as the only serious challenger to Mayor Koch and the power-brokers who run this city is the culmination of a series of developments on the political scene in New York during the past few years. Frank Barbaro, far from being a madman, is the right man in the right place at the right time.

NYC – The Worst

In the past four years of the Koch Administration, New Yorkers have witnessed a steady deterioration of city services. Still Mayor Koch had the gall to say in his four-year financial plan, “New York City’s a better place now than it was a few years ago – a better place in which to work, to raise a family, to visit, and to spend leisure time.” Last February in an opinion poll conducted by the New York Daily News, only 31 percent felt that city services were adequate. Seventy-three percent said that subway service was poor.

The mass transit system has long been an eyesore for the Koch Administration. Not only did Mayor Koch renege on a 1977 campaign promise to hold the subway fare at 50 cents but a recently released study by the New York Public Interest Research Group shows the entire system is near collapse. From 1977 to 1980, the number of subway breakdowns increased from 30,000 to 71,700. Each day 17 percent of the trains “normally” run behind schedule. In response subway riders have resisted. The number of incidents where passengers have refused to leave disabled trains has risen sharply. Police are often brought in to remove disgusted riders.

With the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) short on both operating and capital improvement funds, the mayor has refused to trade in $1.5 billion in federal monies from the Westway project to aid the crippled system. It came as no surprise when statistics for MTA were conspicuously missing from the Mayor’s Management Report. The report, published in January, was widely circulated among the New York press to show off the Koch Administration’s accomplishments.

In the area of health care, the story is again a dismal one. “If you are poor in New York, your chances of dying are much greater,” described Assemblyman Barbaro. “Like the people who died at Bellevue Hospital because the air conditioners weren’t working; like the people who die because the ambulances take forever to reach them.” During the Koch years, over 4,000 hospital beds in the city were lost either through hospital closings or reductions. Of the 24 hospitals closed since 1976, 15 were located in or near minority and poor communities. In the closing of Sydenham Hospital in West Harlem, Koch flatly refused to spend $9 million to reopen the facility in spite of a $200 million surplus in the city’s budget. According to a study conducted by the New York City Health Department, in some of the poorer areas of the city there is one doctor per 1,000 residents. In wealthier areas the ratio is 45 to 1,000. While areas such as Harlem are designated Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) by federal government guidelines, there is a virtual glut of hospitals along the East side of Manhattan. The strip of hospitals often referred to as “Bedpan Alley” has over 6,000 beds.

Housing is another area conveniently downplayed in the mayor’s report. Since 1977, rents in New York City have risen 119 per cent. In 1980 30,000 housing units were abandoned and 15,900 others were converted to coops. Affordable housing for most New Yorkers has become even more scarce. One of the major factors fueling the wide-spread real estate speculation in the city has been the Koch Administration’s tax policy of assessing luxury hotels, high priced office buildings and other multi-million dollar construction projects at considerably less than their market value. According to a report by Sidney Schwartz, the special deputy state comptroller, the Koch policy has lead to the loss of $687 million in potential real estate tax revenue. The Koch policy of tax giveaways has meant for most New Yorkers higher rents and more evictions.

Koch Banked on a Victory Through Default

In early February, Mayor Koch, certain of a victory in the November elections, announced his intention to move up the Democratic Party primary from mid-September to early June. The logic of the decision was to speed up the election process since Mayor Koch expected to run unopposed for the party nomination. In response two separate coalitions were organized.

On February 3, a coalition of reform Democrats and prominent liberals called the Coalition for a Mayoral Choice announced plans to stop Koch’s proposed change. The group’s membership included established liberals like former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, sociologist Kenneth Clarke and lawyer and labor mediator Theodore W. Kheel. In early April, the coalition disbanded after accomplishing little more than to grab occasional news headlines.

At about the same time, the Coalition to Defeat Koch was formed by the New Alliance Party, Black United Front, Grey Panthers, Met Council on Housing and other progressive groups. Since then it has been one of the mainstays behind the Barbaro campaign effort. Since late 1979, the New Alliance Party and Black United Front have been busy making preparations to remove Koch in this year’s election. The Black United Front successfully exposed the Mayor’s racist policies in a number of demonstrations it initiated against police brutality in the black communities. The New Alliance Party, a fast growing independent third party, carried out several petition drives throughout the city. One petition called for a revision in the City’s Charter to allow for the recall of elected officials (i.e., Koch) before their terms are over.

By organizing in Harlem, the South Bronx and other poor neighborhoods which both the Democratic and Republican parties have abandoned, the New Alliance Party successfully built the “Dump Koch” movement into a grassroots movement of workers and minorities. During the two year campaign nearly 150,000 “Dump Koch” buttons have been sold throughout the city. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets and newspapers have been distributed by NAP organizers as they regularly canvessed street corners and subway stops. In unions like AFSCME District Council 37, rank and file members circulated petitions calling on Victor Gotbaum and other officials to endorse the “Dump Koch” movement. The work of the New Alliance Party and the Coalition to Defeat Koch helped create the political momentum which Barbaro has built on.

Dump koch graffiti
Koch Discards Liberal Disguise

Mayor Koch, a self-professed liberal (and one of the very first politicians in New York to oppose the Vietnam War in the 60’s), shocked his liberal and Democratic colleagues by running for the Republican Party nomination. The move backfired. Many moderates and reform Democrats in the Democratic Party, who might not have otherwise, were forced to back Barbaro. Koch’s clumsy try to “sew up the election” helped sharpen contradictions in the already troubled Democratic Party.

Recently, Lt. Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink, City Council President Carol Bellamy and other leading Democrats publicly denounced a Koch decision to appear before a Republican Party fundraiser next month. Charles Manett, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee also joined the chorus of critics but hedged as expected on a request by Mr. Barbaro to censure Koch.

Barbaro Platform–Tax the Rich Not the Poor

From the outset, the Barbaro campaign has succeeded in cutting across racial, ethnic and class differences to assemble the broadest range of groups opposed to the Koch Administration and its big business backers. Students, white and blue collar workers, labor bureaucrats, professionals, small businessmen and other people from all walks of life have supported Barbaro. “Whether I win or lose,” said Barbaro, “the main thing is to continue to build and strengthen this political movement we have started.”

At the heart of this new political movement is Barbaro’s program of legislation and tax reforms which targets the biggest monopoly capitalists. In mass transit for example, Barbaro, in addition to the trade-in of Westway funds, is proposing a series of taxes on big businesses to provide new revenues for the MTA. One is a capital gains tax on the sale of income-producing real estate valued at over a million dollars. The other is an income tax surcharge for those people making $40,000 a year and more. In place of the present MTA board, which is appointed, Barbaro is calling for the election of the 15-member body from districts throughout the city.

In health care, he is seeking similar changes in the Board of Governors of the Health and Hospitals Corporation to include more minority, consumer and labor representation. He has pledged throughout his campaign to reopen Sydenham hospital and to keep open Bronx Lebanon, North General, Brooklyn Jewish and other hospitals threatened with closings. He has also expressed support for a Comprehensive National Health Plan which guarantees health care for all Americans.

Barbaro, a long-time supporter of tenants’ rights in the State Assembly, has helped to lobby for the passage of the Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act. Under the act, stricter guidelines are established for landlords to raise rents. Vacancy decontrol and automatic rent increases of 7.5 percent annually would also be eliminated. Provisions protecting the rights of handicapped and elderly people are also included in the senate bill.

One flaw in the Barbaro program are the proposals concerning crime. “Swift, sure punishment is much more of a deterrent than rhetorical severity which never visits the lawbreaker,” explains the assemblyman. “I will seek to guarantee that all accused to serious crimes will be tried within 120 days.” Tougher laws and stricter enforcement of them will not solve the crime problem in New York. More police will not mean better protection for people but more attacks on them. That’s a lesson learned in blood from the brutal police murders of Randolph Evans, Arthur Miller, Luis Baez and the countless others executed by New York’s “Finest.”

Koch on the Defensive

Barbaro has succeeded in putting Mayor Koch on the defensive by hitting hard on the $700 million in tax-giveaways to large real estate developers. He has raised it at every opportunity possible so that the media has been forced to carry it. Even the New York Post which has endorsed the mayor has had to run articles concerning the tax abatement policy, especially after it was revealed that nearly $175,000 in contributions were made to the mayor’s campaign by Helmsley and Associates, Goldman Sachs, AT&T and other corporations that were given huge tax breaks by Koch. This has helped forged a political consensus among many voters that Koch is bought and paid for by big business. So much so that Koch has been forced to deny it many times in public.

New York City Crisis Will Deepen

In a report from Sidney Schwartz it was revealed that the budget deficit for 1983 is expected to be anywhere between $739 million to $1.3 billion. In 1984 the estimates run from $935 million to $1.7 billion. In 1985 it could be between $963 million and $2.1 billion. The Koch Administration’s “balanced budget” only postponed future deficits. Mayor Koch even admitted in a recent article in the New York Times that the city’s future was uncertain. When asked what he hoped to accomplish in a second term in office, the mayor replied vaguely, “I’m not an oracle. For four years I’ve done it. I don’t expect to do less in the next four.”

The biggest concern worrying Mayor Koch and others in his administration is the city’s limited ability to raise revenue in the municipal bond market. Since the 1975 budget crisis, many investors have become hesitant to buy bonds from the city. Commenting on the current state of the municipal bond market, Felix Rohatyn, chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation said, “I’ve been in the business 30 years and I’ve never seen markets like this.” Rohatyn has proposed that state and city agencies co-ordinate their sale of municipal bonds instead of competing and driving up interest rates. In some cases interest payments on long-term municipal bonds has reached 14 percent.

Another worry for the Koch Administration is an expected $400 million loss in federal funds as a result of the first round of budget cuts by President Reagan. More federal aid to city is likely to be cut in the second round of budget cuts. Admitting that the city’s future depended more on outside forces, Mayor Koch told the Times, “I don’t believe government can do very much on a local level to enhance prosperity.”

Barbaro–A Fighting Chance For the People

Frank Barbaro’s chances of unseating Mayor Koch are slim. Nonetheless his campaign has provided a vehicle for revolutionary and progressive forces to carry out political education and exposures among a broader audience than normally possible. It has given millions of New Yorkers a fighting chance against the attacks of the Koch Administration and its big business backers.

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