Edward I. Koch, the three-term mayor of New York City, passed last week at age 88. While he was lauded across the city and state as he was laid to rest, we thought it fitting to give just a smattering of how the Amsterdam News covered this mayor and how he will forever be remembered in the Amsterdam News.

Beginning on Feb. 15, 1986, then-Amsterdam News Publisher Wilbert A. Tatum began a nearly four-year campaign, with 191 editorials, to have Koch removed from office. The front-page editorials began after the indictment of Donald Manes and continued until the primary win of David Dinkins in September of 1989. Here are the first and last installments of “While the corruption investigation continues, Koch must resign or be removed.” This is the Koch we remember.

While corruption investigation continues; Koch must step aside

(Published in the New York Amsterdam News, Feb. 15, 1986)

By WILBERT A. TATUM, Chairman of the Board & Editor-in-Chief

There are those who counsel New Yorkers to be quiet about Mayor Koch. There are those who would caution us about his awesome power and his penchant for using it for revenge. There are those who would say that “if you close your eyes and your mouths long enough, the bad man will go away.” Koch will not!

The Times, the News, the Post, ABC, NBC, CBS must feel that way too, for they have stood by and witnessed a horror show of divisiveness, racism, polarization and ruin of our city, couched in the cloak of fiscal responsibility and economic turnaround. They have borne witness while refusing to act.

What has happened with the mayor’s new book, “Politics,” is that it is not about politics at all. It is, rather, an exercise in vituperation, hostility and anger by one who does not know himself and refuses to acknowledge the personhood of others.

There is no sensitivity–don’t expect it. There is no real sorrow about the pain that he inflicts, though there may be a private letter of apology after a public explosion of venom, directed at a person or an institution he may someday need.

There are those who say that Koch is so powerful that he can’t be brought down. That, too, isn’t so. Remember Richard Nixon and Watergate and the finest hour that the American House of Representatives ever had. There are chinks in his armor. There are those in the press who know what they are. Yet, these have not been pursued by the working press of the city. Not on any basis that can be perceived as sincere. Perhaps the editors and publishers are at fault. We do not know the internal workings of major media institutions. But we do know that the stories are there.

For the sake of the survival of this city, the fourth estate of New York must rise to its finest hour. An hour that it did not have during the eight years of Edward I. Koch, who has been on a “media honeymoon” that has not yet ceased. It is incumbent upon those who control the media in this town to examine Edward I. Koch with the same kind of microscope they use to measure mere mortals when they fall out of grace.

For the day will come, you see, if this man goes unchecked and unexamined, when the cancer that he represents will have metastasized throughout this city. By then, any examination will be too late.

It is all about money, you see. Those who have and those who have not, and those who have bowed to what they believe to be a higher power. That bowing cannot continue.”

There was a time, you see, when most of the good people of this city believed in “right and wrong … good and evil.” We have not been able, recently, to measure what our people believe about such things unless we are prepared to buy a recent Daily News poll that practically absolves Mayor Koch of all responsibility in our most recent series of scandals and abuses of the public trust.

A former State Supreme Court justice may appeal as “too harsh” his nothing five-year sentence for accepting bribes, one of them from a purveyor of narcotic drugs that have rained so much death on our children, and in the absence of death has created a generation of zombies. The president of a borough of 2 million New Yorkers has relinquished control of his office after his having been accused of extorting money from a contractor doing business with the city’s Parking Violations Bureau in order to politically ensure the continuation of that contract.

A county Democratic leader is under investigation for what appears to be abuses of power and corruption in office covering the eight years of Edward I. Koch. When the numbers and indictments are finally in, it may well be that we will witness the fiscal rape of a city under the nose of a mayor who roundly abused his predecessors for corruption in their administrations and has been unyielding in his criticism of them (Mayors John V. Lindsay and Abraham Beame) personally and professionally during all the years that he has held office. To their everlasting credit, these gentlemen of class and honor have not seen fit to comment on Koch’s most serious problem at a time when the mayor is most vulnerable.

As we begin at the foothills of this mountain of corruption that is our city, a Transportation commissioner has been forced to resign, as have the director and assistant director of the PVB. The federal attorney’s office is investigating four of the five borough president offices as well as the offices of the other members of the Board of Estimate as it pertains to votes on contracts that were entered into by city departments and sanctioned by that Board. The Board of Estimate is being challenged too by the governor of this state, Mario Cuomo, who poses the question, “What do they do?” For a body that is directly responsible for spending $20 billion of the people’s money, it is a devastating challenge.

The thread that holds the seams of government together is becoming unraveled just as surely as the towers of fascism in Europe at, another time, designed never to crumble, crumbled. So it is with the present government of New York City. Its towers have begun to crumble. That crumbling will be complete if the press of this town examines the administration of Mr. Koch with the same kind of microscope used to root out corruption in administrations that were no longer on a press honeymoon.

The time for that examination is now. We simply hope and pray that the major press of this city will have the guts to continue the pursuit started by James Breslin of the Daily News, among too few others.

With the district attorney of Manhattan and the federal prosecutor fighting over turf … with the mayor appointing another commissioner of his own Department of Investigation after having forced another to resign … with the mayor appointing many others to investigate his own administration, would it not be in Koch’s own best interest, as well as the interest of the city, if he stepped aside by taking an interim leave and allowing the investigatory bodies to investigate?

As in the days of President Richard Nixon, the question will be raised, “What did Koch know, and when did he know it?” These are critical questions that can only be answered by an impartial body of investigators. The public will forever question any investigation body or investigator appointed by the mayor, for it would appear to be self-serving and thus suspect. Neither the mayor nor those he has appointed or will appoint to investigate his administration need this kind of question mark hanging over their heads for the remainder of their lives.

Let someone else investigate the Koch administration. The governor of New York state, working with the federal prosecutor and investigators appointed by the governor, would probably be the least suspect at this critical time.

Koch must avail himself of this opportunity to save himself and step aside so that both he and his administration may crawl out from under this rock of corruption if indeed they are as clean as they insist that they are.

There is a simple matter of graft and corruption that is eating at the belly, indeed the very vitals of this fragile organism that we call New York City, and the aches and pains have not yet really begun. As Bert Williams and Al Jolson would have said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

And we have not. With more than a dozen city agencies being investigated by the FBI, district attorneys of several counties as well as Koch appointed inspectors general and Department of Investigation–an amazing story of thievery at the public trough has begun to unfold involving an administration that has insisted that the citizens of this city believe in its honesty and integrity.

Koch must be removed

(Published in the New York Amsterdam News, Sept. 9, 1989)

By WILBERT A. TATUM, Chairman of the Board & Editor-in-Chief

At one of the darkest hours during the history of American politics, a brilliant and sensitive lawyer, Joseph Welch, who represented the Army during the witch-hunting days of the McCarthy-Army hearings of 1954, posed this question, “At long last, sir, have you no decency?” to McCarthy. The same question must be asked of the New York Times and its Editorial Board following its obtuse and clouded endorsement of Edward I. Koch for mayor: “Have you no decency? Have you no shame?”

The poor editorial writer assigned the job of making the case for Koch must have agonized mightily, for endorsing Koch even with damn faint praise, he had to twist, turn and contort in order tor respond to “His Master’s Voice.” In the response though, he made the case for an endorsement of Dinkins as Jesse Jackson pointed out in a recent interview: To quote the New York Times, “David Dinkins has grown steadily in the course of the campaign, holding his own in debates, handling himself with grace, refusing to be divisive. He has carefully avoided cheap attacks on Mr. Koch and has run on an agenda that is worthy and humane, if somewhat wishful. There’s a firmer basis for evaluating his candidacy: his record over two decades in public life, the last four years as borough president. He has not stood out. He has been careful to the point of timidity and his indecision sometimes frustrates his colleagues. If he has the strength and executive talents to be mayor, voters have to take that on faith. He has not yet proved it.”

Koch, whom the New York Times has routinely endorsed, really pales in comparison to Dinkins, and he has not yet proved after 12 years that he can, or even wants to be, mayor of all the people in this tortured city. The suggestion on the part of the Times that David “has not stood out” is, as in the face of it, fraudulent. If he had not, how would he then be the leader in the political polls, less than a week away from the election, unless a significant number of whites believed it too?

Koch has stood out … just like a clown at a funeral. In short, the Times’ endorsement of Koch was sick.

There is an answer to all of this. We can say with some justification that we knew it all along … that we told you so. When the series of attacks on Dinkins began in the Times with the front-page article about David not having filed his income tax statement, it was rerun. This time it was Dinkins rather than Jesse Jackson. For in its zeal to discredit and defame Jesse Jackson when he ran for president, the New York Times began its attack on him with a front-page story that features warmed-over allegations of fiscal wrongdoing at PUSH while Jesse was at the helm. The PUSH allegation never amounted to anything, and David Dinkins had already addressed and settled the matter of his taxes before he ran for borough president and won. He had already paid dearly, for what was clearly a mistake. The Times could forgive Koch for all the corruption on his watch to the extent of hardly ever mentioning it, but found it impossible to even understand Dinkins’ mistake.

Up until the last moment prior to the endorsement of Koch, white liberals were suggesting that David had a 50/50 chance of winning the endorsement of the Times. It was far too clear for those of us who live in the real world that that would not be the case, since anyone who could read knew that the New York Times signed on with Koch a long time ago. Just as he had signed on with the developers, contractors, political whores and special interest groups, many of whom are far more dangerous than some of the lower middle-class ethnics of Bensonhurst or Howard Beach ever will be.

This time, things are very different. The editorial writer at the Times (although the editorial may have been done by committee) has shamed his craft in agreeing to write the endorsement of Koch, for (he/they) have joined with an increasing number of “Liberal” New Yorkers who have wound up being “hopelessly white” and have become willing hosts for the disease of racism. This time, this election, so different from all others, will probably mark the turning point for the New York Times itself, the day when the institution began to fail because “hubris” replaced integrity. EDWARD I. KOCH MUST BE REMOVED.