N.Y.C.'s Koch outlines reforms as scandal unfolds
Mayor Edward I. Koch is beginning to get his fiestiness back, after several weeks of low spirits over the corruption scandal unfolding in New York government. The shuffling of city personnel and a recent speech are seen by some as a sign that the mayor has come to terms with the scandal.
The corruption charges, which involve officials in the Parking and Violations Bureau (PVB) as well as some Democratic party leaders, began in mid-January. They concern the traditional elements of corruption -- accusations of bribery, kickbacks, and misuse of political influence.
Although Mayor Koch is not directly involved, several of the principals in the scandal -- including recently resigned Queens borough president and Democratic party leader Donald R. Manes -- were considered his friends. And the fact that county leaders in New York City wielded so much power in city appointments has meant that Koch has had to reassess the patronage system he tacitly approved.
But last Monday's speech, in which the mayor acknowledged some blame and laid out a plan to root out corruption in city government, is seen as a turning point in the mayor's office.
``The rules are going to be different,'' says William Rauch, press secretary to Koch. He notes that the scandal's biggest effect on the daily running of the city has been in the general mood of the mayor, who has felt let down and betrayed.
City Councilwoman Ruth W. Messinger, a longtime critic of the mayor, says that politically he is not out of the woods yet. Ongoing investigations in a variety of areas will likely result in futher indictments and resignations, she says. And while Koch announced ``some reforms,'' she adds, they were not in legislative form. If he were really serious, he could have had drafted bills in hand at the press conference. ``He's on the right track, but he hasn't gone far enough,'' she says.
When he came into office, Koch decried the ``club house'' manner of previous mayors. Now he admits he did not distance himself enough from the established political structure and party leaders.
Koch says during the effort to resolve the city's financial problems eight years ago, he had to work with that political structure. That relationship allowed party leaders to have ``undue influence . . . on the workings of the government.''
Now Koch has vowed to spend more time on operation of the city, cutting down both on daily ``events'' and time spent talking with reporters.
For the last several weeks, the mayor has been working closely with advisers to outline basic reforms in city government. These proposals include a mayoral committee on appointments that would screen nominees for vacancies on boards and commissions; naming an auditor general to supervise internal audits in all city agencies; a commission to watchdog city lobbying; and a ban on political party officials doing business with the city.
The new screening committee is similar to one that Koch set up in 1978 to screen judgeship appointments. Vacancies on boards and commissions have often been left to county leaders to fill.
Koch says he will use ``the same determination, single-mindedness of purpose and fortitude that I brought to this city's battle against fiscal bankruptcy'' against ``those who would make it morally bankrupt.''
Last November, Koch began a third-term housecleaning. But since the PVB scandal broke, more officials have left, including the head of the PVB, the transportation commissioner, and the department of investigation commissioner.