The longtime mayor and NYC personality Ed Koch died early this morning of congestive heart failure. He was the mayor when I was a child living in suburban Yonkers and throughout my teen-age and early college years from 1978 until 1989 when he was ousted in the primary by David Dinkins who went on to be mayor besting Rudy Guilani that year.
Koch won for the first time in 1977 when the city was in financial demise. People were abandoning the city and the mayor Abe Beame was looking to the federal government for a bailout prompting the famous Daily News headline: Ford to City: Drop Dead. That summer was the huge blackout which led to rioting in the streets especially in places like the Bronx, a stone’s throw from my hometown of Yonkers. It was also known as the “Summer of Sam” where David Berkowitz the so called “Son of Sam” was murdering couples in parked cars, mostly blonde women with their suitors. Berkowitz was found in Yonkers and was actually the mailman in the neighborhood where my father worked. The city was thought to be a dangerous place and the subway was often filled with young people playing their boom boxes loudly. Howard Cossell while announcing the Yankee game saw rioting in the Bronx and famously announced “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning.” Koch ran for mayor on a platform that called for “law and order” running to the right of his opponents on that matter but staying liberal on most other items.
Koch was a no-nonsense mayor. He realized the way to run New York was to “kick butt and take names”, a style emulated by both Rudolph Guiliani and now, Mike Bloomberg. Koch brought the city back from financial decline and made it a safer place to be again. People began to move back into the city. Koch took on striking transit workers by standing on the Brooklyn Bridge and directing bike traffic himself.
After he left politics he ran a long time radio show on WABC Radio, one of that station’s only liberal voices. He was always funny and direct. He dabbled in television on NY 1 and other local TV stations and often wrote columns supporting Israel in the Jewish Forward and other liberal leaning papers. My favorite line of his was each time a radio caller would say “You were a great mayor! You should run again!” Koch would say “Nope, the people threw me out and now the people must be punished! (or occasionally he’d say “must suffer.”). He endorsed republicans as well as democrats. I remember how he threw support behind Al D’Amato for Senate because “the guy gets things done.” D’Amato was a long time Senator who people called Senator Pothole because he’d often take calls from constituents and bring smaller issues they were facing to be taken care of.
Koch, in my opinion, was a great mayor. He was a character and a true New Yorker, despite being born in New Jersey. He refused the Giants a permit to hold a ticker tape parade in the city for a time because they played their games in the Jersey Meadowlands. He had unwavering support of Catholics and loved his own Jewish faith. He’d proudly sit at St Patrick’s Cathedral and counted Cardinal O’Connor as a close friend.
He famously asked people “How’m I doing?” constantly. And today I’m sure when he sees God face to face, he’ll get to ask the Lord that same question. For myself, I think he did just fine. A documentary starts in a few days entitled “Koch” and it looks awesome.
Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor. After eight years of corruption, and a term of the clubhouse, you tried competence…and it was marvelously good.