P&S Journal: Winter 1996, Vol.16, No.1
Cardiologist-Mayor Captures Hearts and Votes
By Peter Wortsman
The mayor of Flemington, N.J., population 4,000, knows his constituency by heart, as well he ought, being a practicing cardiologist. His Honor, Austin "Ken" Kutscher'77, chairman of internal medicine at Hunterdon Medical Center, has no trouble balancing his two hats. "So which is it today, doctor or mayor?" his patients like to joke. "Both!" he is quick to reply.
A political science major as an undergraduate at Columbia College, Dr. Kutscher originally pursued a pre-law track. "That was the year after Bobby Kennedy was shot," he recalls. "I felt that if the Kennedys couldn't change the world then I, who certainly don't have their charisma, wasn't going to be able to do it." He explains the shift to pre-med: "As a doctor, I figured I could at least substantially change the lives of a small number of people."
Health care at Columbia is a long-standing Kutscher family tradition: His father, Austin Sr., graduated in 1945 from the School of Dental and Oral Surgery. His brothers are both P&S graduates, Harlan in 1975 and Martin in 1980.
While a busy private cardiology practice continues, unquestionably, to be his primary concern, he is pleased at the way politics quietly crept back into his life. Selected by the Flemington City Council as an interim replacement for a mayor who died in office, Dr. Kutscher liked the job of mayor well enough to run for the office when his term was up; he handily won the election, the first Democrat to sweep a largely Republican electorate in a generation. In local politics, he contends, "people are more interested in the integrity of the candidate."
As mayor, Dr. Kutscher takes infrequent calls from Borough Hall in between his consultations-"They wouldn't interrupt a cardiologist with simple things!"-and officiates at city council meetings, planning board sessions, and an occasional wedding. And while the life and death decision making of medicine clearly takes precedence, community service offers "a compelling diversion."
Though most of his official business involves negotiations with the sewer commission and the school board, he hopes in the future to have some input in health care at the state and national level. To that end, he plans to pursue a master's degree in public health.
"People know me first and foremost as a doctor who has cared for them or a friend or family member," he proudly asserts.
His campaign slogan, emblazoned over a big red heart, read: "Mayor Kutscher Cares." And he does. The whole town is his patient.
|Austin Kutscher'77 and daughter Jan