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New York's colorful Mayor Koch may carry banners of both parties in bid for reelection

It may be bad year for New York City, but it could prove be the best yet for the city's colorful mayor, Edward I. Koch. Transit woes, rising crime, President Reagan's proposed budget cuts, and uncertainty whether the city can close its projected budget gap for the 1982 fiscal year cloud the city's horizon.

But Mayor Koch -- the "Casey Stengel of politics," as one pundit has called him --stands the best chance of becoming a "fusion" candidate for mayor later this year since the popular Fiorello LaGuardia, who won the nomination of both major parties and served from 1934 to 1945.

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Koch, lean and lanky, is in some ways much like the late squat and stocky baseball manager Stengel: a combination of showman, soapbox bon vivant, and used-car salesman, blended with long experience in his chosen profession.

The Democratic mayor has plenty of support to run on the Republican ticket as well, thus making him the candidate of both major parties, according to George Clark Jr., the GOP's new New York State chairman.

In an interview, Mr. Clark said that if the decision was up to him (it's not, it's up to the entire Republican State Committee), he would like to see Koch have "some competition" from a registered, bona fide Republican. Nevertheless, Clark admitted, "there is support for Koch among Republicans. I would be lying if I said there was not."

Other prominent Republicans, from President Reagan on down, have lavished praise on the mayor's fiscal conservatism and budget-balancing in the past few years.

For his part, Koch earlier said he would enter the Republican mayoral primary provided three of the city's five county Republican leaders supported him. Presumably, one of these would have to be Mr. Clark, who aside from being state chairman is also the party's Brooklyn County leader. Clark says he would go along with what a majority of committee members wanted despite his own preference to back a Republican for mayor.

Adding credibility to the likelihood that Koch will run on both tickets is the dissatisfaction of state GOP leaders with the only announced Republican candidate, former state Off Track Betting (OTB) chairman Bernard Rome. He announced his candidacy April 21.

Mr. Rome, who quit his OTB job after differing with Koch on casino gambling -- he opposes it, the mayor favors it -- will have difficulty raising money for the GOP nomination if party leaders go for Koch.

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The mayor already has raised nearly half a million dollars for his 1981 mayoral race even though he is not expected to formally announce his candidacy until June.

He has told reporters, businessmen, and government officials that he intends to be a "three-term mayor" and that he has absolutely no other political aspirations.

A recent poll showed 60 percent of New Yorkers thought Koch w as doing at least a good job as mayor.

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