Mayor Koch: New York City personified

In their classic political science textbook, "Governing New York City," Wallace S. Sayre and Herbert Kaufman say that the mayor of the nation's largest city, whoever he may be, is a visible expression of New York.

The authors could hardly have been thinking of Mayor Edward I. Koch, who was an obscure lawyer here in 1960 when the book was written, eight years before he was first elected to Congress in 1968.

Now, however, even many critics admit Mayor Koch has come to personify New York to the nation better than any major since the days of that fiery "Little Flower," Fiorello La Guardia.It would be one thing if the feisty, tough-talking, and, at times, comical mayor was all "show business" without any substance. But Koch is given much credit for digging New York out of perhaps its worst fiscal crisis in recent years.

This week voters acknowledged this accomplishment at the polls. In the Sept. 22 primaries, Koch became the first mayor here to win both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Koch took 60 percent of the Democratic vote and 65 percent of the Republican, virtually assuring his reelection.

In his dual acceptance speech Koch, elected as a Democrat, said that this unprecedented mandate would enhance his city lobbying power in Washington and Albany. But there were new storm warnings as well: "There are difficult days to come for New York City. We must resist as strongly as we can the additional reductions which President Reagan is seeking to impose upon the city and nation. . . ."

Yet Koch's major battles lie not only with Washington, but within New York itself. His Democratic primary victory was not the "landside" some Koch supporters had forecast. His opponent, Vincent Barbaro, a virtual unknown before the race, managed to garner 30 percent of the vote, largely but certainly not exclusively from poorer sections of the city. In Harlem, for instance, Mr. Barbaro bested Koch by more than 2 to 1.

But many of the most urgent needs in the city affect almost all New Yorkers. The subway system, by Koch's own estimation, is in terrible shape, as are many roadways, bridges, and jails.

For his part, the mayor has pledged to put city services right as he did the city's fiscal situation. For this he will need Washington's help. Although Koch's relationship with President Reagan is excellent, perhaps even solidified by this recent election -- clearly budget-minded Washington is unlikely to offer the assistance that will be needed for an aggressive campaign to improve services.

Citywide, black voters supported Barbaro over Koch by more than 2 to 1. Although it is no secret Koch is poorly regarded by many blacks, the primary results offer the first real test of just how great their antipathy really is. Many close observers say that the big black vote for Barbaro was much more anti-Koch than pro-Barbaro.Koch has now pledged to do more to show the black community that he isn't blind to its needs, as many have charged. For one thing , he says he intends to hold more "town meetings" in black neighborhoods.

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