Klaus' Political Life


Why was I so interested in politics ?

All of us who grew up in post-war Berlin had been taught a high degree of civic responsibility in school, and it was a lesson that had stuck deeply with me, At age 26 I decided I would try my hand at politics, so that 40 years later I wouldn't end up bemoaning the fact that there was this great unfulfilled passion.

Ed Koch in 1972, with an inscription in the upper left corner thanking me for "my help in so many ways"

I walked into Ed Koch's office, who was then a Congressman with lots of fresh ideas (later Mayor of New York City). I worked as a volunteer for Ed for a while and was eventually put on his staff. From Ed I learned the ins and outs of New York politics: how New York City was divided into small fiefdoms, dominated by political clubs. At Ed's suggestion I joined the (Greenwich) Village Independent Democrats (VID), at the time one of the legendary political reform institutions in American politics.

Ed Koch 1972

At VID I learned the inner workings of the "system": I learned how to run campaigns, how a political organization functions, and about the ongoing fight between the old regular Tammany Hall organization and the new Democratic reform movement, of which VID was the standard bearer.

In 1973 I helped start an insurgent political club, modeled after VID, on the east side of Manhattan called "Gramercy-Stuyvesant Independent Democrats." For the next 7 years I spent most of my waking hours helping to build the club into a viable political organization. We were lucky: we turned out to be the straw that broke the dominance of the old regular organization on local politics.

My chief interest became the reform of the judicial selection process. In New York most of the judges are elected, and since most voters don't vote for judges, the selection of judges was made in the smoke-filled back room of the local clubs. It used to be pure patronage on the basis "this year it's your club's turn for a judgeship." Judicial selection was the murkiest water of New York politics.

A number of people in the reform movement had worked on this issue; I joined them, and after many battles that took years we pushed through a system of reforms which now requires that in order to become a Democratic candidate for a judgeship (which in New York City is tantamount to election) the candidate has to be approved by a Judicial Screening Committee made up by representatives of law schools, Bar Associations, community groups, etc. It had a huge impact on the quality of the judiciary in Manhattan, and the system has since been imitated in many other jurisdictions.

By now I'm almost retired from politics, and most of my other activist friends are also; some of them became judges. We're older, and a little more tired. Spending an evening fighting over Robert's Rules of Order doesn't hold the same thrill that it once did.

My "career" in politics was a wonderful period of my life: full of excitement, disappointments (lost elections) and moments of pure ecstasy (winning a race where you knew you were on the side of the angels).


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