17 March 2008...11:58 am

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

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I have been thinking a lot about marital infidelity this week. Surprise! I have also been thinking about my thesis, which should also come as something of a surprise. I am writing about public hospitals in Harlem during the three Koch administrations. Ed Koch was a odd mayor; pugnacious and jocular and fiercely defensive of himself and his city. He participated in a conference on Jewish humor at the New School once and said, stony faced, I find nothing humorous in the mocking of New York City. Girl, please.

Genghis Tron_Colony Collapse.mp3

During his second term, Koch and his press secretary co-authored a memoir called Mayor. After it was published, a reviewer announced this is the best love story since Tristan und Isolde, with Ed Koch playing both parts.

Genghis Tron_Badlands.mp3

It was true. Koch could do no wrong, and neither could his (young male) subordinates. His favorite protege was Victor Botnick, a tough who had met Koch on the street during his first Congressional campaign. Botnick asked Koch how he felt about Israel. Koch loves Israel almost as much as he hates black people, he told Botnick as much, and thus began a storied, if not beautiful, political collusion.

Botnick initially served as Koch’s resident muscle, but then, inexplicably, rose to assume the presidency of the city’s Health and Hospital’s Corporation. I began researching him because of this, but yesterday I realized he could have great bearing on my less formal investigations into marital infidelity. (When I phrase it like that it’s more clinical than criminal.) Also mortality, always a fascination.

After he left public life, Botnick began dating a dental hygienist from Long Island. (Redundant). He also had a wife back home in Yonkers, but that didn’t stop him from asking the dental hygienist to marry him, and letting her plan a v. fancy wedding. Finally, a week before the marriage ceremony was supposed to take place, he broke off the engagement. I’m dying, he told her. I have terminal cancer.

Oh, god, Victor! she said.

Genghis Tron_I Won’t Come Back Alive.mp3

This is all true, you pretty things, and a matter of public record, you just have to search the archives. Days later, Botnick paid a doctor friend to send his ex-fiance a death notice confirming his story. He got crazier. In 1993, Botnick was indicted for setting off stink bombs (stink bombs!) on two trans-atlantic flights, following a dispute with TWA the year before. The smell was so bad that each time the planes needed to be rerouted, and Botnick was quoted as telling air marshalls that he was a doctor, and so could confidently say that the smell was coming from the air conditioning ducts.

An excerpt from my thesis:

Five months after Botnick took over presidency of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, allegations about his abuse of city funds, a conflict of interest regarding his wife’s employment at New York University’s Medical Center, and the fact that he had never received a college degree led to increased public scrutiny of the man the New York Post called “2-Gun Botnick.”

It became clear that Botnick had never disclosed his wife’s job with NYU, a public hospital affiliate, that he had misled reporters about graduating from various colleges, and that he had never submitted a resume to the city, even after assuming the head position at HHC. In a thorough profile of Botnick, the New Yorker’s long-time City Hall reporter, Andy Logan, wrote that city residents were learning something new about their government. “It appeared that someone who had a friend in the right place could be awarded a seventy- eight- thousand- dollar- a- year appointment, with power over a two- billion- dollar annual budget, without having to fill out any pesky forms.

Logan also wrote about a Daily News cartoon, published on June 17th, days after Koch had accepted Botnick’s resignation, wherein Koch was shown boarding up a dismantled City Hall. The figure of Botnick walked away from him, saying “I didn’t really resign, it was just a fib.” In the background, the city’s hospitals crumbled.

[Buy more Genghis Tron, plz.]

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