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Politics. Edward I. Koch with William Rauch. Simon & Schuster,$17.95. Ruminating is not what Ed Koch does best. But that is just what he does in Politics, the follow up to his best-selling memoir, Mayor. In Mayor, Koch wielded his dictaphone like a stiletto, skewering friends and adversaries alike and providing a revealing picture of what it is like to run the nation's largest city. In Politics, Koch takes the high road-and loses the zest that made Mayor so popular

Each of Politics's chapters focuses on one aspect of the sweet science of running and governing-"Party Loyalty," "Coalition Building," "Ethnic Politics," and the like (Not surprisingly for Koch, the shortest of the chapters is called "Sharing.") As in Mayor, Koch explains by way of anecdote, but most of the material this time comes from the years before he became mayor in 1978. Koch's nine years in Congress and two years on the New York City Council, however, do not yield the same lode as did his first two terms as mayor Consequently, the whole book has the feel of a not-quite-greatest-hits collection of chutzpah hand-me-downs.

The frustration of Politics is that Koch doesn't ask himself the hard questions that would produce a tougher-and better-book. Koch has run and won as a champion of the embattled middle class; he's become the rumpled symbol of their struggle against the fashionable platitudes of the day. Emblematic of his transformation from a standard liberal was his opposition, in the early 1970s, to an enormous and ill-conceived public housing project that was to be plunked down in the center of middle-class Forest Hills, Queens. There can be little doubt now that Koch was on the right side of that issue, and, as mayor, he has been dedicated to the principle that government must serve society's haves, as well as its have-nots. Contrary to the mayor's assertion, however, this world view reflects-rather than defies-today's conventional political wisdom. In Ronald Reagan's America, it seems routine-fashionable even. If Koch really wanted to be courageous and unfashionable, he'd tell the other side of the story: how his city is going to take care of the low-income folks who were denied access to Forest Hills. Now that would take chutzpah.
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Author:Toobin, Jeffrey
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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