restricted access 13: Come, Let Us Reason Together

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
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13 The answer to the question "A111 I 111y brother's keeper?" n1ust invariably be "No. I an1 n1y brother's brother." ~MARTIN LUTHER KING, jR. I T SEEMS THAT l HAVE CONDUCTED MY LIFE on two different emotional planes: one lighthearted, gregarious, even frivolous; the other politically and socially involved and following a serious social and moral commitn1ent. The activisn1 based on this con1n1itment was not lin1ited to union work or even to the arts. My involvement with politics in America started almost from the day of my arrival at the airport in New York, possibly even earlier than that. Many of my friends in England had been expatriate Americans who were victims of the mindless political witch-hunt of McCarthyism. I was determined, if I got the chance, to remind America of its own claim to liberalism, as expressed in Jefferson's ringing words, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of Man." This would have been presumptuous had I harbored feelings of superiority as a European, Z50 · THEO but Europe had too many sins of her own to answer for. Perhaps, like a fresh1nan Congressn1an, one ought to shut up for a tern1 or two before voicing an opinion. But I was a new An1erican with a stake in the country's well-being. And I became a New Yorker very quickly. With that comes a certain combativeness: In short order you find yourself standing on soapboxes at street corners 1naking campaign speeches without finding it at all strange. Soon after my first marriage broke up, I rented a small apartment on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, three doors away from Washington Square Park. My involvement with John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign had been star stuff-going to rallies and holding the crowd until the candidate arrived, making speeches, either short or long, depending on how late Kennedy's schedule ran. After JFK's election I became involved with local Democratic Party politics, specifically in the struggle to return decency to the way the Democratic Party in rny district was run. This fight revolved around the attempts to oust an old-line Tamrnany Hall political machine run from smokefilled back rooms by a sinister figure named Carmine DeSapio, who gave out patronage jobs all year round and Christmas presents in July to ensure a loyal following in the district. For years he had been unbeatable. But this was a new era, and a rival club of mostly young liberals known as the Village Independent Democrats (VID) decided to challenge DeSapio. The first few times the challenge was unsuccessful , although some other elective positions were wrested away frorn Carmine's crowd. Yet he himself was a harder nut to crack. By the time I got involved with the VID, they were gearing up for another round. This tirne DeSapio's opponent was a young lawyer by the name of Edward I. Koch. I was rnaking street-corner speeches throughout the district, extolling the virtues of our candidate. Koch pron1ised an open door and an open ear, in contrast to the back-roon1 dealings of the rnan who always wore dark glasses indoors and who, instead of gaining your trust, bought it. Lo and behold, in 1963 we prevailed, and Ed Koch was elected district leader. From there he went on to be elected to Congress and eventually, in 1978, he became the flamboyant mayor of New York. Years later, at a dinner we both attended, Ed Koch told the assembled guests the following story concerning our past association. "Theo Bike! campaigned for me in the Village when I was running my first race. We were on a street corner, Theo was making a speech, talking about my candidacy, citing virtues neither of us knew I had. I was quite enraptured by his eloquence, and so impressed that I was prepared to vote for this fellow Koch myself, any chance I'd get. A lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked, 'Do you like this speech" I said, 'Yes, very much,' and the bdy said with pride, pointing to the speaker, 'That's my son.' I said, 'Oh yeah' Well, that's my friend."' Ed remembered this incident for years, it seems. In 1988, on my mother's ninetieth birthday, he issued a congratulatory mayoral citation and sent it to her in Israel. There were other races in which I worked for YID-supported candidates. Bentley...


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