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Koch: Down but Not Out in New York Mayoral Primary

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IN his early days as mayor of New York, Edward Irving Koch loved to gauge his popularity. ``How'm I doin'?'' was his trademark question. Folks leaped from the crowd to shake his hand and respond, ``Just great, Ed.'' Mr. Koch isn't asking anymore; he doesn't want to know. On the eve of his fourth mayoral campaign, only one out of three voters thinks he's doing a good job.

The mayor rode a tide of popularity for his role in bringing New York City out of its fiscal crisis of the 1970s and was widely admired for his ``I Love New York'' boosterism that helped keep large corporations from moving out of the Big Apple.

But these days Koch is blamed for carrying both his priorities and his outspoken nature too far.

Critics say his push for economic growth has been unplanned and has resulted in New York becoming a less appealing place to live. They blame him for policies that they say have enriched developers while increasing poverty. Frustrated residents point to a dramatic, crack-fueled rise in crime, a crisis in city schools, a health-care system unprepared to cope with the AIDS epidemic, and a homeless problem that becomes more palpable each week. A spate of scandals involving high administration officials has further soured the public on him.

Koch's brash personal manner and tendency to shoot from the hip, which once seemed to appropriately mirror the ``New York Persona,'' now simply grates, and has resulted in the alienation of many. His harsh criticism of Jesse Jackson in last year's presidential primaries angered many blacks, and his seemingly approving comments about British handling of Northern Ireland inflamed local Irish-Americans.

This year, he has compared the tactics of one opponent, City Comptroller Harrison Goldin, who like Koch is Jewish, with those of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. ``His mouth seems to get further detached from his brain as the years go by,'' says Lawrence Kehoe, a Manhattan Democrat.

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