Ed Koch was so alive it’s hard to believe he’s dead.
The quintessential New Yorker, Koch may have been the last of our old time city politicians.
Koch paid his dues and rose through the ranks, schmoozing his way up until becoming New York’s most popular mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia. It’s almost impossible to imagine Koch running an Obama-style internet campaign for office.
Love or hate him, you always felt like Koch was one of us. Whatever you think of Mayor Bloomberg, can anyone honestly say the same about him?
Koch was brash, opinionated and sometimes outright rude. My only personal experience with him was when I was a NYC public school teacher and asked to step in for our ailing union rep at a teacher’s day luncheon, with the Mayor on the dais.
Wearing a lime green sportscoat, Koch yawned theatrically as a Board of Ed member droned on, eventually resting his head on the table.
Later in life, he called Donald Trump “piggy” and the NY Times’ Thomas Friedman “a pompous ass.” Can’t really argue with either assessment.
Koch helped New York dig out of its financial crisis and was instrumental in rebuilding the South Bronx and ending the 1980 transit strike. He also was criticized for not doing enough during the AIDS crisis and for being racially polarizing.
Still and all, Al Sharpton said Koch was “never a phony or a hypocrite. You always knew where you stood with the man.”
When Koch ran against Mario Cuomo for governor, his bluntness helped do him in, turning off voters who didn’t live in the city. Koch described suburban living as “sterile, numb, a wasted life.” He also mocked those dwelling in rural areas and capped it by saying living in Albany would be “a fate worse than death.”
Less amusing was the “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo” slogan used against him. Some attributed the slur to Cuomo’s 19 year old son and campaign manager Andrew, while others say it was started by Lyndon Laroche’s vicious group.
Koch was long rumored to be a closeted gay man. When asked if he was, Koch replied “None of your f–king business.”
Perhaps Koch’s greatest achievement was lifting the spirit of New Yorkers when the city was going through a hellish period, including everything from financial woes to the Son of Sam serial killings.
“Ed Koch gave New York City back its morale,” said then NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. “And that is a massive achievement.”
Koch was as well known for his quips as his political positions. When the Ringling Brothers circus came to Madison Square Garden and Koch refused to pet a tiger on opening day, a bystander called out “Mr Mayor, are you a coward?” Koch glared at the man with mock outrage and replied “Your Mayor is not a coward. Your Mayor is also not a schmuck!”
Koch was not a coward. He was awarded two battle stars in World War Two, and this toughness was evident during his terms as Mayor, noted Pete Hamill.
“He went at it with a sense of joy, a sense of combat, a sense that made us all say “that’s the voice of New York, that’s what we are,” said Hamill.
“I think of him now with enormous affection,” said Hamill on the day Koch died. “He was a huge pain in the ass, but he was our pain in the ass, and we were lucky to have him.”