09/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Koch Will Make Upstate Tour To Promote Heroes And Slam Enemies Of Reform

It will be by rental car instead of RV, but Ed Koch is hitting the road.

Making his first upstate campaign tour since his failed run for governor in 1982, Koch is on his way to Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse August 4 to 6, to rally support for New York Uprising, the political action committee he founded earlier this year to force reform by compelling candidates for the Legislature and other state offices to sign a pledge to pursue non-partisan redistricting, ethics reform and responsible budgeting. And there may be more stops coming as Koch looks to truly localize the problems he has focused on in state government and how he thinks the actions outlined in his pledge would serve as solutions.

Each stop will feature a rally praising the people who have signed a pledge, or the “Heroes of Reform,” and lambasting the “Enemies of Reform” who have not.

“We’re going to make it hot and heavy for those who didn’t sign and hopefully support those who did,” Koch said.

Koch will also meet with local editorial boards and other groups to pump up the cause of New York Uprising while on the trip, and may even conduct some fundraising events while traveling to build up the $120,000 raised so far, with about $20,000 of that coming from an event held in New York City in late June.

Koch has said that anything left over after paying for operating costs will be spent helping promote candidates who have signed his pledge.

Those operating costs, aside from the money to pay for travel, go to two aides who have spent the last three months in an office in Lower Manhattan contacting campaigns and helping drum up pressure for candidates to sign the pledge.

“The idea is really: this is a statewide campaign, and that’s reflected in the support that we’ve seen,” said Adam Riff, the co-executive director of NY Uprising, explaining how the tour fits into the evolution of New York Uprising, which grew out of a somewhat meandering complaint session Koch held at his law firm office in March. “We always intended to put people on the line for this—it’s been Mayor Koch’s message from the beginning that this is the year to achieve reform, and these are some basic non-partisan reforms that anyone can get behind, and many people have.”

A series of e-mails went out to candidates following New York Uprising’s launch—first to get them the pledge, then to tell them of a Quinnipiac poll that had found that one in five voters would vote against candidates who did not sign the pledge, then to notify them that Koch would be announcing “Heroes” and “Enemies” lists, and finally to remind them that the deadline was nearing in late July.

Those limboing in under the deadline included Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos and his entire GOP conference, helping bring the Heroes of Reform list to 240 when unveiled on July 22. The entire leadership of the Legislature, meanwhile, passed on the pledge, putting them among the over 100 incumbents who were, according to Koch, Enemies of Reform.

Not that they accepted this label.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, in fact, responded to being placed on the list by issuing a statement that called the motives of New York Uprising into question and cited reforms the Democrats have made in the majority, taking a swing at the Republicans for their years in power.

“New Yorkers are angry, and they have every right to be. But they deserve an honest debate from reformers who want to fix our problems and not just chase headlines,” he said. “We welcome any partner willing to make a real contribution to give New Yorkers a government as good as its people.”

Koch has made clear that he has no interest in any response other than signing the pledge, in public and in private.

Take this e-mail, subject line “Line in the Sand,” that he got from a sitting legislator in response to his final reminder that the pledge deadline was coming:

From the very beginning of my political career I made a promise to myself to take no pledges. I have kept and will continue to keep that promise. I was elected to represent all of the people, not just the people who believe as I do.

I am very surprised that a man of your principles would name people who have a proven record of voting consistently for reform and against out of control spending to a list of “Enemies of Reform.” Your lists mean nothing if in fact those who have taken your pledge as reformers have legislative voting records against reform and those named to the list as enemies have consistent reform records. To say the least I am very disappointed in this action and will make it known to the public through the press—my line in the sand.

Instead of talking the talk, lets walk the walk together and vote in candidates who pledge to the people that they will be working toward reform. We already know those who say they will but won’t!!

Koch’s response:

If you won’t sign the three good government pledges, New York Uprising will list you as an “Enemy of Reform,” and will urge your defeat.
All the best.
Ed Koch

The Heroes, meanwhile, have received a seal of approval and laudatory quotation from Koch to use in their campaign materials—even in races where multiple opposing candidates have signed the pledge. New York Uprising is also looking into other ways to voice their support for Hero candidates through Koch, like having him record robo-calls that could be used across districts. Koch himself has been talking about getting a billboard along the West Side Highway in Manhattan, though that seems unlikely—at least for now.

As for those who made the Enemies list, Koch said, the invitation to join him remains open.

“You can get off the enemy list by signing up at any time,” he said.

Aware throughout his political career how powerful he can be through his natural media presence, he has made himself even more available than he always is to promote the effort. He even started to use Twitter, giving him a new, 140-character venue to release his quips and opinions.

Between that and his openness that, at 85 years old, he has nothing to lose and is engaged in what is likely his last campaign, Koch is hoping he will be able to make a real difference at the polls this year.

“People are getting madder than they’ve ever been, and if they aren’t given some guidance, they’re just going to run to the polls and vote ‘no’ on every incumbent,” he said, adding that with his guidance there for the voters, “I believe the incumbents who are perceived as Enemies of Reform are going to rue the day they decided not to sign the pledges.”

The real work, of course, would come next year, when Koch and New York Uprising will try to make sure that the legislators who did sign the pledge—along with the next governor, since Andrew Cuomo, Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino each signed—hold to their promises.

Koch has a plan for that too.

“If they betray their pledge,” he said, “I’ll go around the state yelling ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’”

photo by Daniel S. Burnstein

Read more on The Capitol