David Koch: His name, his legacy
|By Roy Wenzl, The Wichita Eagle|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
In the photo, Koch's tall frame towers over
She's staring at him in bewilderment.
"I got to the front of the line," Koch says. "And I said, ?
"Look at their shocked looks," Koch says.
He relishes this: A Koch brother, at the
But now, no one thinks the Koch brothers kid around.
Since 1980, when Koch appeared as the vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket,
Since January, Senate Majority Leader
"Most of the portrayals, by the way, are just ?the Koch brothers,' that's the entirety of it," David has said. "As though you are some sort of two-headed thing."
He helps cancer victims. Mothers needing day care. He's enriched some of the most cherished cultural arts centers in America.
He wants to be remembered as a good man.
Charles and David are each worth about
They are not conservative Republicans; they are Libertarians, believing in as little government as possible. David supports gay marriage, believes in evolution and has no stated position on gun control.
The Kochs tried and failed to help defeat Obama in 2012. The organization they helped create,
The Kochs never say how much they've spent on politics.
"The world of politics, it's a brutal battle,"
"Negative publicity is far more effective than positive publicity.
"People who are expert in the field tell me that."
Along the banks of the
Koch said he sits on 22 boards of museums or hospitals or other groups.
Cultural officials say he contributed ideas that benefit more than the wealthy. At the
He's an evolution science nerd who talks about what a "fantastic scientist"
Museum officials say he does more than write checks.
"He's such a smart, wise businessman that in running a
"It will be one of the largest public spaces in
It was designed by Koch and other committee members as an "egalitarian space," for everyone. Before Koch got involved, Campbell said, there was no space for kids to eat lunch on a field trip. The Plaza will have tables under shade trees, space for 250,000 children to eat picnic lunches annually "in what will now be perhaps the most beautiful spot in
After he finished a committee meeting at the Met last month, Koch began explaining micro-details about the Plaza fountains, the stonework and trees.
As he talked, he pulled from his suit pocket a small notebook, densely packed with penciled committee notes. "I got it right here, it is called the Littleleaf Linden tree." They picked that one, he said, because the the canopy will form an aerial hedge, shading people in a city where one of the fun things people can do for free is walk along
"The trees that were there were all old, broken and ugly," he said "And the illumination of the facade overlooking
"I suggested the whole project," he said of the Met's plaza. "It took about two years of working with the final architect to come up with all these different designs. I suggested a number of things, too ... and at the end of months and months of work ... the chairman of the building committee said: ?We've got this fantastic project, and the big question is, how do we pay for it?'
"And so I raised my hand, and said, ?I've got a good idea. Why don't I pay for everything, including all the extras?'
"And he said, ?What did you say?' And I repeated it.
"And he said, ?My God, David is serious about this.' "
For the past six years, opponents have speculated about how many millions
Hours after David Brat defeated House Majority Leader
"God, I'm just thunderstruck. The reason he lost, I'm certain, is that the turnout was really light."
Cantor "was so busy with his responsibilities as majority leader that I'm sure he didn't spend nearly as much time with his constituents as other representatives were able to do," Koch said.
Cantor, whom Koch has contributed money to, lost to a tea party candidate, and critics say the Kochs created the tea party.
"We didn't create the tea party," he said. "That's a grassroots uprising. Like 1776 was."
AFP, however, has worked with the tea party.
"The tea party is quite a mix of people you know, (from) very fine responsible people who have succeeded in life, to people on the far right who can be extreme and are quite different than those that are more in the middle.
"Most of the people that I think would constitute the tea party movement are responsible. I mean, people way on the right, I mean, I'm critical of that category of people too, I think that isn't a very positive way for them to conduct themselves."
He has no favorite for president in 2016 -- too early, he said.
"It's tax and spend on the Democratic side, if she's the nominee."
"I don't know enough about him to understand whether he could be a successful candidate to get the nomination."
"Rand's got good ideas."
"All this is so premature."
The focus is on the midterm elections in November.
"We are working to do well in the
AFP, an organization of activists vilified by Koch critics, and designed to coax politicians into enacting conservative ideas, is one of the more visible groups the Kochs are involved in. David and Charles founded it with two others and David serves as the AFP foundation's chair.
The group is spending
"These ads are very well done in my opinion,"
"I don't have really any input in the content of these ads, these ads are worked on by the team in
One result of his activism are attacks on the Kochs. He's tried to explain that to his children.
"I've been explaining what I think the reasons are, these political opponents are so nasty. It helps them win elections. So we have to be very active and more effective than our opponents in supporting the candidates that we think should be elected to high office."
Plane crash in 1991
His preoccupation with his life legacy, along with his biggest donations, began to come together after a 1991 airplane crash, Koch said.
"It was an absolute miracle that I survived in 1991. And everybody around me died."
US Air Flight 1493 from
"I got out within a few moments of being overcome with asphyxiation from all this intense smoke that filled the airplane. And I managed to get the galley door open, and jump out." He spent two days in intensive care.
"My feeling was, God almighty, everyone around me died, and I survived, and the good Lord must be sitting on my shoulder looking after me. He obviously has the feeling that I'm a person worth saving. He thinks that I can do a lot of good for the world if I stay alive.
"You become somewhat spiritual when you go through an extraordinary experience ... There was a point there where I was trapped in the front of the plane, I was breathing the smoke, I couldn't figure out how to get out of the plane, and I said to myself, God, this is fascinating, I've always wondered what it was like to die, and I'm about to go through with that. This is fascinating.
"And then my brain separated from my body, and went up towards this white light, and I remember my brain looking back, at this poor body that was dying, and the brain very confidently was escaping, and that lasted for quite a few moments, and all of a sudden my brain snapped back into my body.
"The really big gifts started, you know, after I had that terrible accident."
On the wall of his office are two magazine articles he wrote about the crash -- one for Cabin Crew Safety. He also framed two uncashed checks alongside the articles. "I wanted to prove to doubting Thomases that I was once actually paid for something I wrote," he said. "Engineers are not any good at writing, you know?"
The article he wrote for Cabin Crew Safety noted that some recommendations Koch offered about passenger safety were adopted into federal aviation regulations.
A year after the crash, in 1992, Koch was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and began contributing to medical organizations.
"Cleverly done," Koch said of the video. "He sounded like a broken record."
"I'm sure (Reid) knows all the good things we do, how we built this great company," he said. "And he just won't say anything positive about us, even though we do phenomenal things philanthropically.
"We all like to be complimented and thought well of. When someone is as powerful and important as Reid is, when you get criticized by him relentlessly, why, it's not pleasant. But he's across the line, he's way overdone it, just week after week after week, I think some of senators of his own party feel that he has gone too far.
<p>"And I understand that."
Leaving a legacy
He walks fast and moves nimbly through
"Two artificial knees. Artificial left shoulder. My right shoulder is arthritic, it needs a replacement." He also has undergone years of chemotherapy for cancer.
"The living here is like trying to get a drink out of a fire hose," David said. "Which I like."
He has drivers for his cars, but can bristle at the notion that he's always a back seat rider.
Koch motioned for her to get into a tiny blue sports car. She fumbled with the seat, trying to get into the back.
"What are you doing?" she said Koch demanded.
"Trying to get to the back seat."
"Just get in the car. In front. I'm driving."
"What? You know how drive?"
"Of course I know how to drive! I can drive tractors!"
They have three children, two boys and a girl, ranging in age from 8 to 15.
Johnny is a science nerd, like his dad, fond of dinosaurs. Koch goes home and curls up with Johnny and watches "NOVA," the
His brother Charles has described how uncomfortable publicity makes him. He donated
David, in contrast, puts "David H. Koch" on everything he pays for.
He wants people to know he tries hard to do good, he said. He wants his children to do the same.
"I think each one of my children is a fine, honest person with a great interest in being kind and considerate to others. And I'm sure that when they get older, they will become philanthropic -- because I am providing the resources for them to contribute to worthy causes generously."
He knows, he said, that some historians might not be kind to the Kochs, which is why he has literally carved his name in stone on some of
"I hope one of my legacies will be that
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