A little-noted campaign maneuver by Ed Koch earlier this month speaks volumes about our mayor's capacity for opportunism.
On Aug. 6, Koch called, in the interest of "fairness," for the inclusion of all Democratic primary candidates in the mayoral debates. Not just Koch himself, Carol Bellamy and Denny Farrell, but also three "fringe" candidates: Gilbert DiLucia, a Greenwich Village lawyer; Dr. Fred Newman, a leader of the New Alliance Party; and Judah Rubinstein, a follower of the racialist demagogue Lyndon LaRouche.
Doubtless Koch's intent was to undermine public perception of Bellamy and Farrell as serious contenders by forcing them into the same bag with the minor candidates.
Koch failed, however, to take into account the special character of the campaign of Rubinstein, who is the regional director of LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC). Thus the mayor—America's leading Jewish politician and a frequent outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism—found himself attempting to provide a platform for Rubinstein to tell New Yorkers that the NDPC is a legitimate part of the Democratic Party.
It should be noted that Koch's open-debate proposal had nothing to do with defending Rubinstein's civil liberties. Nobody has suggested that the LaRouche candidate be prevented from running for public office or muzzled in any way by the government. Koch was calling for Rubinstein's inclusion in debates sponsored by private organizations.
Many residents of Washington Heights and Inwood will recall the LaRouchians as the gang which attempted to capture control of the District 6 School Board in 1983—with the aim of turning the local schools into an indoctrination center for their leader's ideology. The effort failed after legitimate community groups organized a massive voter turnout to "Stop the Fascist Cult." During this battle, Mayor Koch co-sponsored a press conference with Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) to speak out against the LaRouchians.
Well-financed and with a national organization, the LaRouchians are not the harmless proponents of "classical education" that they sometimes pretend to be. The Anti-Defamation League has denounced them for the "injection of anti-Semitic poison into the American political bloodstream." The New York Times has documented their beatings of political opponents and their weapons training at "counterterrorist" training camps.
Through the years, the LaRouchians have developed close ties with the Ku Klux Klan and various neo-Nazi groups. Their newspaper, New Solidarity, has referred to the Holocaust as "mythical" and has called for the "immediate elimination" of Jews from government, labor and business. They have also produced hate literature attacking blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Jesuits, Free Masons, homosexuals and welfare mothers.
The 1985 Koch campaign has not only called for the inclusion of Rubinstein in the mayoral debates; Koch's aides have even tried to drum up newspaper publicity for the LaRouchian candidate. Reported George Arzt in the New York Post, Aug. 1: "Koch aides have repeatedly asked political reporters why they haven't written about DiLucia, Newman and Rubinstein."
One apparent result of this Koch effort was an article in the Daily News, Aug. 5, by Frank Lombardi. Entitled "Hey Guys, We're In It Too," this piece profiles all three minor candidates in a frothy, friendly manner, describing how they are attempting to offer voters "a breath of fresh air." From this article, one would never guess the real nature of the Rubinstein campaign.
Koch's tolerant attitude to the LaRouchian candidate seems to have influenced the other contenders. DiLucia, according to the Daily News, "urged sponsors of the five planned mayoral debates to include all the Democratic candidates." Newman, although he and his New Alliance Party associates have often criticized LaRouchism, sent a telegram to Koch, saying "I applaud your call to include all duly qualified candidates in the upcoming mayoral debates . . . [To] make it stick, you should refuse to appear in any debate that is not open to all the contenders." (Italics added.) Not to be outdone in "fairness," Carol Bellamy expressed her hope—during the Aug. 25 televised League of Women Voters debate in which all candidates parlicipated—that all six would be included in later debates.
Mayor Koch has used the LaRouchians as a buffer in the past. In 1981, wishing to undermine the mayoral campaign of Frank Barbaro, Koch insisted that LaRouchian candidate Melvin Klenetsky be included in the debates. (On that occasion, also, Koch used the argument of "fairness."--see N.Y. Times, Aug. 27, 1981.)
This propelled Klenetsky into prominence in the three-way race, in which he won over 25,000 votes. Throughout the final weeks, he was treated by the pro-Koch New York Times and other media as a legitimate, mainstream candidate, and his attacks on Barbaro were reported in all seriousness. Koch, while benefiting from this, studiously ignored LaRouchian attacks on himself. Although the LaRouchians published in New Solidarity a collection of obscenely and-Semitic and homophobic jokes about the Mayor under the title, "Below the Borscht Belt," Koch compared Klenetsky favorably to the decent, humane Barbaro. "Mel Klenetsky, he's not as bad as his rhetoric," the mayor told The New York Times, Sept. 23, 1981. "Barbaro is as bad as his rhetoric."
The result of the Klenetsky campaign was to give fresh life to the LaRouche group in New York City, where it had been devastated over the previous two years by media exposes and by public education campaigns in the Jewish community. In addition, the Klenetsky campaign so heartened the LaRouchians that they began to use the tactic of entering candidates in Democratic primaries in other cities and states.
In 1982, they ran dozens of candidates nationally; one came in second of four in the Democratic primary for governor of Pennsylvania. In 1983, they ran almost 600 candidates from Florida to California; several were elected to minor Democratic party posts. In 1984, they ran almost 2,000 in at least 30 states, winning their first Democratic Congressional primary in Ohio and racking up 20 to 40 percent of the vote in scores of races.
Some observers believe that LaRouche's New York tactic of running candidates with Jewish names is a deliberate smokescreen. John Ranz, chairman of the Holocaust Survivors Association, U.S.A., is one who believes that the voters (and Mayor Koch) should look beyond the names: "For many years," said Ranz, who monitors right-wing groups, "anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi parties in the U.S. have used self-hating, anti-Semitic Jews as front men when convenient." Ranz described how the Liberty Lobby, a group allied with LaRouche, sells anti-Israel books by Jewish authors along with openly Nazi books.
Ranz and other experts have charged LaRouche with using psychological manipulation to recruit young Jews and turn them into cult followers.
The LaRouchians, in spite of deceptive tactics, have not had as easy an entre to voters this year as in 1981. The media spurned Koch's efforts to include the minor candidates in the media-sponsored debates, leaving the League of Women Voters' debate as the sole opportunity for Rubinstein to confront the major candidates.
In that debate, there was an interesting twist to Rubinstein's behavior. During the entire 90 minutes, during which he had about seven chances to speak, Rubinstein, although he repeatedly used LaRouche's rhetoric and ideas, did not dare mention the name of LaRouche. Not once.
The people of Washington Heights, who two years ago gave the LaRouchians such a resounding rebuff at the polls, can take a bow.
Note: There are interesting parallels between Koch's dealings with the LaRouchians and current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's alliance with the so-called International Workers Party aka the Tendency aka Social Therapy aka the Development Community--a network founded by former LaRouche disciple Fred Newman. And the intervening mayors, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani, also had their pet extremists. I'll be examining in a future posting the curious 27-year record of this mayoral financing and/or political encouragement of the city's haters--and how the Democrats, the Republicans, philanthropists, Jewish and African-American communal organizations and the media have all served as enablers of this opportunistic addiction.--DK