As mayor of New York City, I described myself as "a liberal with sanity." It troubled me that over the years, the Democratic Party had drifted toward the radical left. The vast majority of registered Democrats, and those who identify with that party, were and are moderates. As mayor and in the years since I left public office, I made it my mission to strengthen the Democratic Party by moving it closer to the center.
I supported and admired President Bill Clinton, who followed the same course on the national level. For the same reasons, I applauded the success of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recreated the Labor Party in Great Britain, calling it the "New" Labor Party and getting rid of some of its obsolete socialist programs so that it now appealed to moderates. As a result, its majorities became enormous.
During my mayoralty, I occasionally endorsed Republicans in the Albany Legislature. I didn't always agree with many of their positions, particularly their opposition to a woman's right to an abortion. (I am for the rights provided under Roe vs. Wade.) But I believed those individuals had demonstrated a willingness to lend financial support to the City of New York which was then on the edge of bankruptcy.
Over the years, I have crossed party lines in mayoral elections because I believed that John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, for whom I campaigned and voted, would be far better for the City of New York than the Democratic candidates running against them. Party affiliation is an important consideration but should never be dispositive when casting a vote.
Now for the first time in my life, I am going to vote for a Republican candidate for President, the incumbent George W. Bush. I voted for Al Gore in 2000. I was one of the few Democratic leaders who supported Gore in the 1988 presidential Democratic primary when Michael Dukakis received 45 percent of the primary vote in New York City, Gore 7 percent, and Jesse Jackson carried the City with 46 percent. With his endorsement of Howard Dean in this year's primary and his strident speeches calling President Bush a liar, Gore has certainly demonstrated that he has moved considerably to the left since his defeat.
Why have I endorsed George W. Bush when I don't agree with him on a single domestic issue? Because I believe the issue of international terrorism trumps all other issues. I don't believe the Democratic Party has the stomach and commitment to deliver on this issue. I believe terrorism will be with us for many years to come. So long as Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd are considered major leaders of the Democratic Party, and so long as we have radical candidates like Howard Dean, whose radical-left supporters have been described by the press as "Deaniacs," the Democratic Party will be limited in its ability to serve the country well in times of crisis.
Everyone familiar with my political career knows that along with my deep love for and gratitude to the United States and the City of New York for giving me extraordinary opportunities to serve the public, I am a Jew proud of my people's history and accomplishments. Over the years, I have expressed my anxieties at the escalating worldwide anti-Semitism that now abounds in Western European countries such as France, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland and throughout Eastern Europe, including Russia. We haven't seen the likes of this rising tide of hatred directed at Jews since the 30s. So, of course, I am interested in the views of the two presidential candidates towards Israel and its security.
Among the condemnations I have received for supporting President Bush was the following letter:
July 18, 2004. "Mr. Koch. I am Jewish. I had the displeasure of hearing you say you will vote for Dubya Bush in November. I turned off the program after that because of Israel. I'd like to remind you this election is for President of the U.S. not for the leaders of Israel. I could give you 100's of reasons to not vote for Bush, but you've already become a turncoat."
I responded on August 2, 2004, as follows:
"I received your note of July 18.
"Jews have priorities and are entitled to them just like every other ethnic group in America. Mexican-Americans are especially interested in the position of the presidential candidates on amnesty for illegal aliens. African-Americans are understandably interested in the safety of Africans in the Sudan who are subject to genocide at the hands of the Arab-dominated Sudanese government. Christians surely will be very concerned about the murders and injuries of Christians attending Mass in Iraq at five churches by Islamic terrorists. I could list many more. All Americans should be concerned about these outrages. Having such priorities does not make you less American, but more American.
"For Jews, it is the security of the State of Israel. When 200 French Jews recently left France out of fear of persecution by Muslim toughs in that country, they knew that Israel would take them without condition, which was not the case when Jews were fleeing Germany before World War II.
"However, you are misinformed on my position as to why I support President Bush for reelection. I support him because of the Bush Doctrine, "we will go after the terrorists and the countries that harbor them." He has demonstrated that he means it by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, both threats to their regions and to the U.S. I do not believe that the Democratic Party, which is now dominated by those who preferred Governor Dean for president, but decided he could not win, has the stomach to take on worldwide terrorism. Indeed, a New York Times-CBS poll of the delegates at the Boston Convention demonstrated their opposition to John Kerry's position which is not to get out of Iraq now. It is the party activists who the candidate has to rely on to get elected and whose positions generally prevail.
"I have held public office for 23 years. I was elected five times as Congressman and three times as Mayor with super majorities after the first election for each office. New Yorkers trusted my insights and common sense, and I believe they still do. The Islamic terrorists, in the words of Lee Hamilton, "want to kill us," and there are hundreds of millions of them. I want a President who is willing to go after them before they have the chance to kill us.
"I do not expect to convince you, but I do hope that you will respect my opinion and experience.
"All the best."
For those who say that John Kerry would be just as good as George Bush on the issue of Israel, let me cite an article from The New York Sun dated August 4, 2004.
"In a speech he made last December at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Kerry said he would consider sending Mr. Carter or Mr. Baker as his personal envoy to make peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Both men are associated with using America's special relationship with Israel to pressure the nation into untenable concessions." It went on, "Mr. Levine told The Sun yesterday that Mr. Kerry instantly regretted making those comments. 'The truth on the envoy issue is that his staff got out ahead of him and released a statement he had not seen; when he saw it he was extremely upset about it and it did not reflect his views. Rather than withdraw at that moment, he allowed it to stay in the speech. He regretted it before he said it, but made the decision that taking it out of the speech at that time would call more attention than leaving it in. He has subsequently made abundantly and repeatedly clear he would not appoint an envoy that does not have the trust of both sides.'"
Does anyone seriously believe that Kerry saw the offending reference for the first time when he delivered that major speech? A major speech on foreign policy would have been vetted and practiced by the candidate and his advisers a dozen times before delivery. Does anyone believe that if he disagreed with a statement in that speech, he would not have deleted it? Does anyone believe that while disagreeing with the statement, he delivered it anyway thinking there would be less damage than if he removed it?
I found it both interesting and disturbing that Kerry omitted any reference to Israel during his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. To his credit, vice presidential candidate John Edwards thought it important to mention the need to protect the security of the State of Israel. I am convinced that President Bush will never trade Israel's special relationship with the U.S. in exchange for political support be it domestic or international. I doubt that John Kerry and the "Deaniacs" who now embrace him would have the same resolve.