New York Democratic mayor & Reagan: no odd couple

New York City's Mayor Edward I. Koch, a Democrat, is establishing a relationship with the Reagan administration that many a Republican mayor might envy.

This carefully cultivated closeness, both personal and political, between the mayor and the President is viewed by impartial experts here as a key to the city's continued rise out of a lingering fiscal crisis at a time when they city already is in its best fiscal shape in several years.

Dr. Herbert Ranschberg, research director of the Citizens' Budget Commission, a private, nonprofit City Hall watchdog organization, says "the city's now finally in a much better financial position than it has been in the last six or seven years. And barring unforeseen 'earthquakes' over which the city has no control, it can be said the city is now on an even financial keel." Many other impartial experts agree with his assessment.

But Dr. Ranschberg stresses that perhaps the city's primary protection against financial "earthquakes" is Mayor Koch's growing friendship with GOP President Reagan.

This relationship did not happen by accident. In an effort to balance the city's budget and restore fiscal stability, the mayor has had to act more like a Republican than a Democrat. He has fought union wage increases; held the line on city involvement (and spending) in matters the private sector was even slightly interested in pursuing, such as the redevelopment of Times Square; and virtually taken a Republican view of Mr. Reagan's planned budget cuts, with some exceptions.

Moreover, on a personal note, the mayor has gone out of his way to be cordial to the new President. Before the November election, Mayor Koch invited candidate Reagan for talks at Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence. The mayor repeatedly has asked President and Mrs. Reagan to stay overnight at the mansion, which fronts on the East- River, whenever they come to town.

And at a press conference Feb. 19, Koch went out of his way to say publicly what his administration has been doing privately for almost the past six months. He told reporters he was making every effort "to be conciliatory" toward the new administration, stressing that "we need him [Reagan]. . . . Spending has to be reduced. It would be idiotic for me to say to the President: 'Don't cut the budget,' when we did exactly that." Nevertheless, Koch vowed to oppose proposed cuts in mass transit and public service funding.

The mayor's placatory remarks stand in sharp contrast to those of New York's Democratic Gov. Hugh L. Carey. Governor Carey's strong opposition to the administration's economic program almost resulted in a shouting match between him and Reagan during the President's recent question-and- answer session with the nation's governors in Washington. Carey also refused to sign a resolution by the governors affirming basic support for the Reagan economic program.

The governor's remarks have caused concern in the Koch administraion. The city continues to depend heavily on federal aid funneled through the state government. Regarding the difference in approach toward the Reagan administration of Governor Carey and himself, Koch told the Monitor recently: "Hopefully, both of us have in mind the impact of what we say, with the thought that whatever we do will benefit New York City and New York State and not hurt them."

For its part, the Republican County Committee (in Manhattan) is delighted by Koch's actions, fiscally and politically. A spokesman said the mayor was "a breath of fresh air for Republicans." He also indicated that although Koch would never be a Republican in name, his actions may speak louder than party labels.

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