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Ed Koch Vs. Al D'Amato

Our eagle-eyed experts haggle over plutonium, appraise the "nasty" McCall-Cuomo race, and bid up Bloomberg.

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Jennifer Senior: So. Let's begin with everyone's favorite topic: smuggled nukes. Time recently reported that the Bush administration spent all of October fearing a nuclear bomb in downtown Manhattan, thanks to a sketchy tip. Yet it never shared this information with city officials. What do you make of this?

Al D'Amato: Only if the administration knew what to look for -- a suitcase bomb, whatever -- should they have said something about it.

Ed Koch: But it was outrageous that they didn't inform local officials, and they've since said they were wrong not to.

Al: Maybe politically. Practically, it doesn't mean a darn thing.

J.S.: Mr. Mayor, let's say you were still in office. How would you have presented this alarming information to the public?

Ed: I wouldn't have! You can't evacuate New York City! It would cause thousands of deaths simply in motor accidents! Hey, when I was mayor, we received a letter saying plutonium had been put in our reservoirs. So we tested, and it looked like there was a trace of plutonium. But our people said there are often false positives, and it takes six weeks to check. So the question was: What do I do? You can't tell people not to drink water, and there isn't enough seltzer to go around. So I decided we would say nothing. And I would continue to drink the water, so that if I died, at least I would be among the first.

J.S.: What do you make of Bush's shadow government?

Al: The media hysteria over it is bullshit. Obviously, we have to have contingency plans in the event of a catastrophe.

Ed: Look, the real issue here is Bush's stature, and he's still doing remarkably well.

Al: Tom Daschle made a terrible faux pas when he attacked the president for his conduct of the war. Democrats are going to pay a tremendous price for it, and they have no issues to run on. But I want to get into the McCall-Cuomo primary. It's heating up, and it's getting nasty. McCall's spokesman is now saying, in essence, that Andrew Cuomo is a supporter of Yasser Arafat. It's the kind of over-the-top attack that you'd expect from Cuomo!

J.S.: Though you're both supporting Pataki, is there a Democrat either of you prefer?

Ed: I'm not going to take a position. Then people will say, "You just want the weaker candidate to face your candidate."

Al: McCall's got a terrific personality. He's a gentleman.

Ed: Now tell us what you think about Andrew, Senator!

Al: Verrrrry aggressive.

J.S.: Well, whoever wins the race for governor will wield an awful lot of power. The Times recently noted that every budget season, the mayor has to go to Albany, hat in hand.

Ed: If you want to increase or decrease taxes, you have to get permission from the State Legislature. It's dead wrong.

Al: I say thank God for limitations imposed by the state.

Ed: You do? Why on earth?

Al: I'll tell you why. The commuter tax wouldn't be a quarter- or a half-percent. It'd be 1 percent, 2 percent, or more.

Ed: Well, now there's none. The Legislature took it all away.

Al: Rent control --

Ed: They've destroyed it.

Al: Good!

Ed: I don't think so. I'd give us home rule, making our City Council equal to the Legislature. That's not saying much . . . And while I'm ranting, can we discuss companies that are deserting New York, like Morgan Stanley? If I were mayor, I'd forbid them from participating in any future deals with the city. I'd stand on the steps of City Hall and shout "Morgan Stanley delenda est!" Which is a takeoff on "Carthage must be destroyed."

J.S.: Speaking of City Hall, Bloomberg continues to get favorable press coverage.

Ed: Yes. It's no longer the reign of Caligula but of Claudius. Bloomberg is a technocrat. He sees a problem, he sees a solution. If he solves the city's financial problems in his first term, he won't run for another, because the pleasure that I had -- and Giuliani had -- isn't what motivates him.

J.S.: Still, he's keeping a low profile at a time when the city is still reeling from the attacks. Wouldn't it be nice to have the reassurance of a more avuncular, more visible figure?

Ed: Well, it's hard to have both. Giuliani and myself, we got our psychic kicks, our joy, from comforting people. But the emotional response -- that's just not Bloomberg's shtick.

Al: He's not looking to be the most popular man in the world. But he's strong, he's methodical, and he conveys a sense of real solidity.

Ed: Gravitas is what he has.

Al: Gravitas is a good word.

Ed: I know. It's my Latin shtick.


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