SINCE THE DAY he was first elected Mayor of New York in 1977, Ed Koch has tried to do to his city what Ronald Reagan is now doing to the country. Even while economists were attacking the newly elected president last year for using America as a guinea pig in his supply-side experiment. The Wall Street Journal quietly pointed out in editorials that Reaganomics has already been applied in New York by Koch. Last week, the mayor was defeated in an expensive state-wide gubernatorial primary that few expected him to lose, which suggests that after five years of small-scale Reaganomics. New Yorkers have finally wised up.
From the start of his campaign, Koch was logically declared a shoo-in: People throughout the state were familiar with the mayor simply because the nature of his office has routinely and frequently thrust him into the news over the last five years. And just months ago, he won a virtually unchallenged second term in city hall on both the Republican and Democratic tickets.
He collected a $2.7 million campaign fund and myriad endorsements from people who presumably wanted to stay on the good side of a man who, even in losing the governor's race, would remain mayor for another four years. But in the end Koch lost because the strong support he needed from his own city just never materialized. In fact, a majority of the mayor's own borough, Manhattan, voted for his opponent, Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Koch, in his single-minded obsession with producing balanced budgets and a "healthier" city economy, underestimated the human impact of his policies. he justified harsh cuts in the budget by reminding critics that the city nearly went bankrupt in 1975. Between 1979 and 1981, he cut $29 million from the police department's budget, and serious crimes rose in New York last year while the rest of the country saw a 2 percent decline. He continued a policy of deferred maintenance" of subway trains, and the frequency of breakdowns tripled under his administration while fares rose by 25 percent.
The closing of Sydenham Hospital in 1980 symbolizes Koch's attitude toward human services. As the only emergency-care municipal hospital in West Harlem. Sydenham treated Black and Hispanic people in one of the nation's most medically underserved areas: the infant mortality rate in Central Harlem, the second highest in the country, compares with figures in some underdeveloped nations. But Koch saw only the need to enforce "fiscal austerity," so Sydenham was closed after community protests, a hospital takeover, and a violent clash between the police and outraged citizens.
Koch told Blacks that Sydenham, which could have been kept open for less than $15 million, was simply too expensive for the city. Yet, at the same time--and here the mayor bears a striking political resemblance to Reagan--city investment and incentive programs have provided 20 real estate corporations with over $330 million in uncollected taxes. Koch's tax incentive programs cost New Yorkers $174 million in fiscal year 1982, which has led a city councilwoman to report that "these tax giveaways are the fastest growing expenditure item in the city budget."
It wasn't very surprising when Koch endorsed Reagan for president and not Jimmy Carter, nor was it a shock when Reagan supported Koch's campaign for governor. The two men are political kinsmen, even though they belong to different parties. So the president, and the rest of the nation as well, would do well to look at the quality of life in New York and think about why Koch was dumped by his own city when he sought higher office. New Yorkers seem to have realized that cutting essential services to finance incentives for a few corporations is no way to run a government.