Ed Koch vs. Barry Farber: Legendary Mayor’s First Victory Detailed in The Right Frequency

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away earlier this month, was a legendary political figure. Barry Farber was a legendary talk radio host in the Big Apple, whose voice dominated the powerful WOR throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  The two larger-than-life figures would face off in 1977, when Koch was seeking his first term as mayor.  Farber was interviewed in The Right Frequency: The Story of the Talk Radio Giants Who Shook Up the Political and Media Establishment by Fred V. Lucas (History Publishing Co.). Farber talked about the mayor’s race against Koch and his other adventures in radio. Below is an excerpt from The Right Frequency that details Koch’s first mayoral victory over legendary New York talk radio host Barry Farber. Farber was interviewed in The Right Frequency about his mayoral campaign and other adventures behind the microphone.

Covering a quarter of WOR’s airtime was enough exposure to give [Barry Farber] political aspirations. He exited radio in 1977 to run for mayor of New York City. He initially sought the Republican nomination, but before the primary, the Conservative Party nominated him, putting him in company with William F. Buckley, the Conservative Party candidate for New York mayor in 1965. The difference is that Buckley famously said the first thing he do if he won was demand a recount. Farber had a strategy for winning.

“There was a real scenario for victory,” Farber said. “Let me explain. We could see in the year 1977 that conservatism was rising. Reagan was elected three years later. Our strategy was to pull an insurgency on the very liberal New York City Republican establishment, run against the Republican establishment candidate. Try to get that nomination. Then hope that the Democrats did what they always do and did up until that year. They always, in their primary, had 15 percent of the eligible voters voting and they always voted with the leftmost candidate.”

“If that had taken place, then [former U.S. Representative] Bella Abzug would have been the Democratic candidate,” Farber continued. “If both parts of the plan had worked-actually neither worked, I got 42 percent for the Republican nomination for mayor—but if I had gotten the Republican nomination and Bella Abzug had been
the Democrat, I’d have won. I had the Conservative Party line too. If I had the Conservative and Republican and Bella were the Democrat, that was a real scenario. It was a long shot, but every Sunday long shots are thrown, they call them hail marries and some are caught.”

State Senator Roy Goodman won the Republican primary, but Farber did win more than four out of 10 Republican voters over, which was better than expected. The race was tight in most boroughs, but Goodman trounced Farber in Manhattan. Farber continued his fight into November carrying the Conservative banner.

Farber opposed racial quotas, gay rights laws and supported stricter laws for school truancy. Farber, by the way did not give an advantage to Democratic nominee Ed Koch, by dividing the Republican ticket. Koch was fending off Liberal Party mayoral nominee Mario Cuomo. Polls eventually showed it was essentially a race between Koch and Cuomo. On Election Day, Koch won the four-man race with 49 percent of the vote. Farber and Goodman got only about 5 percent each.

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