Friday, March 7, 2008

The Old Gray Mayor

Mayor Ed Koch, who served as New York City's highest elected official for 12 years (1978-89) swung into New Orleans yesterday for the Jewish Federation's Campaign Celebration and I was one of only two journalists allowed to interview him. For an 83-year-old man who suffered a stroke and survived a heart attack, he is amazingly spry. He is as sharp a tool as has ever graced the shed. He just completed his 17th book, an examination of his dealings throughout his political career with anti-Semitism called "The Koch Papers." He writes a weekly commentary and reviews movies and boy! does he have stories to tell. Koch kept the crowd of 300 in stitches last night as he recounted stories of his days as a New York Assemblyman, a U. S. Congressman and finally a New York mayor. In between his colorful and lively remembrances were several admonitions and challenges to the crowd. The celebratory mood was diminished by the news from Israel of the slaughter of eight Yeshiva HaRav students by a terrorist. Only a few people in the room knew about the attack, since news reports had just started emerging around the afternoon drive time. Koch was informed by yours truly when I handed him a breaking news report I had hurriedly printed just prior to leaving for the the interview session. It was clear he was moved and he stated unequivocaby that the centrality of the Jewish people needs to be Israel. And he went even further. "We are facing from Islamic terrorists a war of cultures that is an attack on all of Western civilization," he opined. "At the forefront in the vanguard of defending Western civilization and being attacked for it is the State of Israel." As somber and telling as those words may have been, Koch didn't stay morose very long and following the interview session (and a private dinner for major campaign donors), he was ready to address the packed house at the Westin Hotel. He gave audience members what they most wanted: an interesting, gregarious and funny celebrity who engaged the crowd with a snappy rapport. His support for the State of Israel is undeniable. That led to what was probably the biggest laugh of the night. Koch recalled a lady who expressed concern about evangelicals' support of Israel. He told the crowd that she had stated to him that she felt uneasy because "'what they say is they cannot have their Messiah return unless and until Israel is fully retored to Jewish control and then they expect the Jews to convert or die. That makes me a little queasy.'" Koch said he immediately shot back with this rejoinder: "Let me tell you how to handle this. If there is news in the land of Israel that there is a new Messiah, seek him out and ask him 'Are you Jewish?'" The room exploded in laughter. "And if he says yes," he continued, "then ask him 'Is this your first or your second visit?'" Again the room rocked. "And if he says it's his first visit, maybe they should convert. If he says it's his second visit, then we'll talk about it!"

No comments: