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The Mayor's Combative Correspondence

ALL THE BEST: LETTERS FROM A FEISTY MAYOR by Edward I. Koch, with Leland T. Jones, New York: Simon & Schuster, 286 pp., $19.95 ED KOCH provides a few light moments in his new book, ``All The Best.'' There's his unabashed boredom with baseball, for example, and some nice vignettes concerning Mother Teresa's fondness for chocolate chip cookies and a rooster problem on Staten Island.

But on the whole the book is vintage Koch: punishment for the enemy, payback time. Koch keeps a finely calibrated score card of irritations and affronts, and these letters settle scores with offenders ranging from Susan Sontag, the literary critic, who attacked his defense of press restrictions in Israel, to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Koch's enemies in the press come in for especially blistering attack. He calls Jack Newfield, his arch-nemesis at the Daily News, a ``self-admitted liar.''

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Always, it is Ed Koch at the center. The city's fiscal crisis? The issue here is that Ed Koch, and not his predecessor Abe Beam, was responsible for the recovery.

But say this for the former New York City mayor. The letters are his own. There is none of the vacuous sonority of young staffers trying to sound official, no artful highmindedness of the kind that some wordsmiths put into presidental speeches.

Koch dictated his letters first thing in the day, while the affronts of the morning papers still rankled. They have a direct, visceral quality - an emotional presence that was much of Koch's middle-class appeal and that Democrats on the national level have been lacking for years. Adore him or detest him, there's a real person in these pages.

Koch is parochial, as New Yorkers tend to be. The letters show little contact with the world of ideas. Koch misuses the term ``populist,'' for example; he thinks it applies to Village Voice-style ideologues, when actually Koch - who refers to the well-heeled as ``richies'' in his memoirs - has at least as much claim to that description.

Nor is Koch one to reflect on the affairs of the day, outside of scoring points. His letters won't sit next to Thomas Jefferson's in the annals of American correspondence.

But then, the farmer-aristocrat never tried running New York City. In the bleak days of the late '70s, Koch provided an emotional center the city needed. If the Democrats could combine Ed Koch's instincts with, say, Sen. Bill Bradley's intellect, Republicans would worry.

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