-By Stacey Singer
Febraury 20, 2012- PALM BEACH — David Koch has become the face of conservative America's obsession with weakening organized labor, and for that, he believes, there have been death threats – 100 credible threats last year alone, he says.
Journalists tend to describe the lanky MIT-trained chemical engineer and his brother Charles with the phrase "secretive oil billionaires."
They describe a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators – even U.S. Supreme Court justices.
"They make me sound like a bully," David Koch says when asked about journalists, looking a little baffled. "Do I look like a bully?"
On this night, Koch wants to talk about the battle against cancer, not unions.
He is all smiles and charm as he hosts a fundraiser, wearing the unofficial Palm Beach uniform of a pink shirt and tie, a navy blazer and white pants, showing off Villa El Sarmiento, the 1920s Addison Mizner-designed mansion that he and his wife, Julia, painstakingly restored.
Standing in its grand entry hall, surrounded by Moorish tile work and marble statuary, he seems concerned about restoring something else – his media image.
Koch says he has held four or five benefit dinners at Villa El Sarmiento on behalf of the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center, where his prostate cancer is treated. He introduces Dr. Ronald DePinho, MD Anderson's new scientist-president, to a group of about 70 guests.
The night's subject is MD Anderson's new "moon-shot" plan to cure five types of cancer. Koch, 71, wants Palm Beachers to know about it.
With a security officer keeping watch in a corner, Koch answers all questions, enumerating his charitable connections, gushing about the John Wayne-like father who shaped his work ethic and worldview, and waxing passionate about his views on everything from the Obama administration's health overhaul to what he sees as the critical symbolic importance of the battle against union power in Wisconsin.