Death of an Original: Former New York Mayor Ed Koch 1924-2013
America has lost an original, a politician who was one-of-a-kind with a personality and political assertiveness that came flying right out at you. Ed Koch has passed away after a recent illness:
Ed Koch, the three-term mayor whose irascible exuberance and “How’m I doin’?” tagline made him synonymous with New York chutzpah, has died. He was 88.
Koch had been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks, battling a fluid buildup around his lungs that caused shortness of breath and made speaking difficult. He was moved to a New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia intensive care unit on Thursday afternoon and a spokesman confirmed the news of Koch’s death Friday.
Allies and even enemies mourned the passing of the scrappy son of the Bronx who fancied himself “Citizen Koch” and is credited with leading the city away from bankruptcy.
As mayor, he was a quote machine who courted controversy, a self-proclaimed “liberal with sanity” who angered civil libertarians and civil rights activists.
“I’m not the type to get ulcers,” he once bragged. “I give them.”
He didn’t mellow when his political career ended with his 1988 defeat at the hands of David Dinkins. Nor did he shy from the spotlight.
He continued to write movies, do restaurant reviews, pen books, helm radio shows, appear in TV commercials and movie cameos. He even spent two years as the judge on “The People’s Court.”
He was unpredictable to the end.
In 1999, he wrote a book about former Mayor Rudy Giuliani entitled “Nasty Man.” In 2004, he endorsed Republican George W. Bush for president; four years later, he was back backing Barack Obama and other Democrats.
In April 2008, Koch shelled out $20,000 to buy a plot in Trinity Cemetery on Riverside Drive, the only Manhattan cemetery that still had room.
“I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone,” he said at the time. “This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”
During his years as mayor, from 1978 to 1989, his tight fiscal policies pulled the city out of severe financial difficulties.
But homelessness and racial tensions soared and critics charged that City Hall’s responses were ineffective.
His mark on the city was set in steel when the Queensboro Bridge, connecting Manhattan to Queens, was renamed in Koch’s honour in 2011.
Ed Koch, a feisty, Bronx-born Democrat who won three terms as mayor of New York and developed into an international personality, oversaw the city’s financial recovery in the late 1970s only to see it shudder a decade later in the face of AIDS and a crack-cocaine epidemic.
As mayor, Mr. Koch, who died at age 88 Friday in New York, hosted heads of state and used City Hall as a bully pulpit to advocate for foreign-policy priorities, particularly those supportive of Israel.
New York faced myriad difficulties when Mr. Koch joined a crowded field of Democratic rivals running for mayor in 1977. High crime and a five-borough blackout followed by looting that summer made it seem nearly ungovernable, and a serial killer who called himself “Son of Sam” was at large. Arson then flared in the Bronx as the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
Worst of all, the city’s finances were in crisis. The federal government had refused a requested bailout. leading to one of the era’s most memorable headlines, “Ford to City: Drop Dead”.
Mr. Koch, who earlier in the race had polled 2%, harnessed a so-called “blackout backlash” to defeat incumbent mayor Abraham Beame and archrival Mario Cuomo and win the election.
Mr. Koch balanced the city’s budget, restored its credit and helped revive the confidence of New Yorkers. Over 12 years in office, he replaced the patronage appointment of judges with a system of merit selection— a reform he called his proudest achievement—and launched $5.1 billion in city-funded affordable-housing construction, rebuilding neighborhoods gutted by arson.
“His love of the city, I think, is what made him a great mayor,” said Mr. Cuomo, who lost the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary to Mr. Koch and later beat him in the 1982 race for governor. “It gave him a force, a special force that enabled him to work harder…and do more than most mayors could do.”
Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents. His father, a furrier, lost his business in the Depression and moved the family to Newark, N.J. Ed Koch was drafted at 19 and served in the Army in World War II, earning two battle stars. He later studied law at New York University School of Law and went into private practice.
Mr. Koch got his start in New York City politics in the early 1960s as a reform Democrat, ousting Carmine DeSapio, the head of Tammany Hall, from his position as Democratic district leader in a party primary in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Here’s a You Tube embed of a trailer for a recent documentary on Koch:
PERSONAL NOTE: There are reporters who dealt with Koch a lot more than me, but I did have one interview with him when I was a reporter on the San Diego Union. He was in town to talk to a synagogue. Koch was quite impressive, a great person to interview and clearly experienced in dealing with media types. And, it was clear, above all, an American original.