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Ed Koch vs. Al D'amato:
I'm Right, You're Wrong

New York's dynamic duo duel over Elián González, Rick Lazio, and, inevitably . . . Hillary and Rudy.

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Maer Roshan: So Elián González's father has arrived to claim him. How will this all play out?

Al D'Amato: Look, the question always was whether the father was being manipulated by Castro. So we said, Let the father come here. Well, he's here now, and he has the right to take his son home.

Ed Koch: I agree. I just hope the situation doesn't get out of hand. If the Cuban population in Miami decides to withhold the child from his father, then I hope that Clinton has the same courage that Kennedy and Eisenhower did when people in Georgia and Arkansas engaged in insurrection. He should send in the National Guard.

M.R.: What did you make of Al Gore's . . .

A.D.: . . . disgusting pandering? He ought to be ashamed of himself! Laughs He needs a spanking. And he's gonna get it. He may win a few votes from the Cubans in Florida, but even they sense how fraudulent this is. Rank political theater always backfires.

E.K.: There's no question Gore was pandering. It's sickening to watch all these politicians laying down to the jingoists of the Cuban community in Florida. But in this case, I don't think Gore was after the Florida Cubans. I think he's targeting the second-largest Cuban community, in Union City, New Jersey. New Jersey is a battlefield. Florida's already lost . . .

A.D.: No way! Florida's dead even. In the end, this race centers around eight key states: Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, and maybe New Jersey. It's a pick-'em race, and the person who makes the most mistakes will lose.

M.R.: Speaking of mistakes, how about the on-again-off-again Senate candidacy of Rick Lazio? Now, there is obviously no love lost between Governor Pataki and Rudy Giuliani. You've had problems with Rudy, too, Al. Even the public is starting to bail on him. Why not go with a fresh face who has a better chance of beating Hillary?

A.D.: Rank-and-file Republicans still believe Rudy is the best candidate. They're not going to switch now. Besides, Lazio's not serious. He's being a provocateur. He doesn't want to get into a primary.

E.K.: You hope not. Anyway, I think Rick Lazio has been screwed by the Republican leadership, and he's angry. If he got into a Republican primary, he would clean Giuliani's clock. Look how foolish Giuliani is: The other day, instead of trying to placate Lazio, he makes fun of him. Typical. He may yet push Lazio to the point where he'll run just to show Giuliani up.

A.D.: You know, at the start of this campaign, Pataki, myself, and others didn't endorse Rudy because Lazio told us he was considering a run. But rank-and-file Republicans wanted Rudy; they thought he could beat Hillary. So we endorsed him. No one made an effort to stop Lazio. He missed the boat. He wanted assurances that everyone was going to get behind him. That's not how it works. When I first ran in 1980, nobody was for me. If he continues this, Lazio will seem like a crybaby. Anyway, Giuliani is still stronger. His record, in general, has been excellent!

E.K.: Then why can't he get his approval rating over 50 percent?

M.R.: Hillary's not faring much better, Ed. Given that Rudy is, in your estimation, a wounded candidate, and Hillary still can't beat him, why not open up the Democratic primaries and elect somebody who could? Let Nita Lowey have a shot.

E.K.: Listen. Nita Lowey is a friend of mine. If she ran instead of Hillary, she would have gotten my vote. But I believe, as most Democrats do, that Hillary Clinton is the best person to articulate our agenda. She's electrifying.

A.D.: She's a great performer, just like her husband. What an actress! Now the Clintons have a new act: "Rudy is the candidate of the Right-Wing Conspiracy." Come on. Haven't they sung that song before?

E.K.: Al, there's no question that Rudy is appealing to the right-wingers. He sent out a major mailing to an arch-conservative mailing list. And in his letter, which I read, he basically says, I appeal to you as a conservative. He doesn't tell them his liberal positions. He just lets them know if they're looking for Genghis Khan, they've got him.

A.D.: Nonsense, Ed! Next they'll be morphing him into Newt Gingrich. They can't compete on the issues, so theypaint him as a right-winger. The real reason for these desperate attacks is that Bill Clinton is bored. And Hillary Clinton is having trouble raising money. She's panicking.

E.K.: Well, Hillary can certainly count on $2,000 from me.

A.D.: Yeah? Laughs. Well, in that case Rudy can certainly count on another $1,000 from me!


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