On Life, Death and the New York Uprising

It was last July that I left the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, after spending six weeks there, five of which were in the Intensive Care Unit. I was there to have a quadruple bypass and heart valve replacement. My gall bladder was also removed.

Here I am a year later working full time at my law office, Bryan Cave LLP, doing what I did before the surgery, including my radio and television programs, weekly commentaries on local, national and international issues, as well as my movie reviews. The doctors had told me when I left the hospital that it would take about a year to be fully restored to health, and they were right. It was interesting to observe how my strength increased with each passing day. The only residual that I can detect is a little frailty in walking, with me somewhat worried about my balance. To deal with that, I am going to take a class at the Hospital for Joint Diseases.


My comments on the death of George Steinbrenner:

I am not a big sports fan. George Steinbrenner meant little or nothing to me before I was elected Mayor New York City in 1977. Then, suddenly, he meant a lot.

When the Yankees won the World Series in 1978, the City went crazy with joy. Remember, at that time New York was in a state of depression because of the City's economic decline. We were on the edge of bankruptcy. Indeed, Mayor Abe Beame had actually prepared bankruptcy papers for New York City before the Democratic primary, which I won. But he had not yet filed those papers by the time I took over.

I knew that bankruptcy was not an option if we were to avoid becoming another Detroit. So when the Yankees won the Series in '78, it was a huge boost to our morale. I announced that I would authorize a tickertape parade to celebrate. The New York Times, I recall, published an editorial urging me not to, saying it would be a needless expenditure. I knew, however, that New Yorkers needed a lift. I responded to The Times with the comment, "New York Times, you have your head screwed on wrong!" The parade was held, with a ceremony at City Hall. It had a wonderful, energizing effect on the people of this great city. In other words, George Steinbrenner's success in bringing a winning tradition back to Yankee Stadium had an important impact on New York City's return to full economic health.

The Yankees' World Series trophy was placed on display in the City Hall Rotunda for 30 days. Thousands of people streamed in to see it. Years later, I was asked by Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia to take a delegation down to Nicaragua to monitor the Esquipulas II Accords, settling the civil wars taking place in Central America. I knew that Nicaragua's dictator, Daniel Ortega, was a Yankee fan, so I asked George Steinbrenner if he would give me six Yankee uniforms to give to Ortega. He did. I attended a big rally in Nicaragua where the plaza was packed with tens of thousands of Ortega's bully boys, who looked like the storm troopers of Hitler's Nazi Germany. Ortega was giving a speech denouncing the United States. As I passed in front of him, he was yelling, "Yankees will die either here or there." Then, seeing me, he said, "Except this Yankee, Ed Koch; he is as safe here as he would be on 42nd Street." The crowd roared approvingly. The next night when I met Ortega and gave him the six Yankee uniforms, Ortega smiled and said, "I love the Yankees." I said, "You didn't last night," and he laughed.

George Steinbrenner was a winner who knew how to negotiate. He was constantly threatening to take the Yanks out of the Bronx and away from New York City. In the late '80s, we wanted to extend his lease on Yankee Stadium, and we ultimately got him to the point where he agreed. We agreed to all the terms, which included our getting 10 percent of the $50 million that the Yankees were then receiving for cable television rights. However, just before I left for Nicaragua, George called and said he wanted a two-week delay to select an option which had been offered to him by the City and which did not affect the overall contract. I, of course, said yes. Several weeks later, he called again and told me he was declining to sign the extension. The reason, we learned, was that he had gotten a deal increasing his cable television rights to $500 million, and he didn't want the City to get the 10 percent. We had shaken hands on the deal, but he was a tough -- and sometimes ruthless -- negotiator. For George, business was business.

George Steinbrenner will always be remembered and associated with the great New York Yankees. Even in the early days of his extraordinary ownership of the Yanks, everyone knew he was destined to be an important figure in the history of the City. And so he is.


I thought you would be interested in what I am doing regarding New York State issues. I have created a political action committee that has taken on the New York State legislature -- labeled "dysfunctional" by the Brennan Center for Justice, a good government private sector agency.

The natural impulse during this election year is to "throw the bums out!" However, in my view, this would be irrational and unfeasible. There are 150 in the Assembly and 62 in the Senate. My suggestions to fellow New Yorkers is to join in an effort to educate and improve the quality of the existing membership and those who fail to assure their constituents that they have sufficiently improved should indeed then be thrown out.

Those who have joined our organization, New York Uprising, decided early on that we would seek to have the incumbents in the Albany legislature and their challengers sign statements committing them to vote for legislation that would provide for impartial, non-partisan redistricting of all legislative districts, including Congress; balancing the budget according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP); and expanding the code of ethics to which they would be subject.

At this point, 60 incumbents and 94 challengers (154 total) have signed the pledges -- we require signed pledges on all three issues. We have sent all candidates -- incumbents and challengers -- a letter advising them that if we don't receive signed pledges on all three issues by July 21st, we will on our website describe the candidates who fail to sign as "Enemies of Reform," and those who do sign as "Heroes of Reform."

In August, I will be traveling upstate to seek local media support of our endeavors and holding press conferences with those candidates who have signed the pledges and praising them.

All of the candidates for Governor, Democrat and Republican, have signed the pledge committing to veto any legislation by the state legislature which does not provide for impartial, non-partisan redistricting. I have also asked the members of Congress to pledge support for impartial redistricting.

I am often asked why, at this point in my life, I am willing to spend so much time and energy on reforming our dysfunctional state legislature. I decided to do this because no one volunteered to take the issue on as a project. I decided to make it, as it were, my last hurrah. I'll keep you updated. Interestingly, what we are doing in taking on our state legislature is being done in many other states. The people of our great country are fed up with those who represent us. We know we can do better and are entitled to better.