Friday, February 1, 2013

Ed Koch dead: Mayor who became a symbol of New York City passes away at 88

Among the many things to love about Ed Koch was his willingness, unusual for a politician, to say things just how they were. He never came across as fake. Even when Mayor Koch stumbled, I respected the fact that he was a forthright man.

Sadly, the New York Daily News is reporting that Koch passed away yesterday.

Three-term mayor Ed Koch, whose exuberant "How'm I doin'?" tagline made him synonymous with New York chutzpah, is dead at age 88. The Bronx born pol was a reformer who saved the city from bankruptcy but whose final term was marked by scandal and corruption. Political friends and foes praise Koch as a man who meant what he said and fought for the city he loved. ... “Ed Koch has given New York City back its morale," the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said in 1984.

I had noticed that in the last year, when Koch's name was in the news, it usually regarded his failing health.

Koch was 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 unconscious when he was moved to the intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia Thursday afternoon, and died at 2 a.m. Friday of congestive heart failure.


In some respects, it's amazing Koch lived to age 88.
Koch, who'd had a mild stroke while in office in 1987, suffered a heart attack in 1999 and had a bout with pneumonia in 2001. Nothing slowed him down for long. In August 2008, firefighters and paramedics raced over to his Greenwich Village apartment after he accidentally set off his Life Alert pendant in his sleep. He jovially told the Daily News that he had not died. “To the consternation of my enemies, I'm still alive,” the then 83-year-old said.

In the last few years he sensed the end was near.
A couple years later, as he marked his 85th birthday, a more subdued - but still feisty — Ed Koch acknowledged his mortality. "I'm coming to the end of my life, whether it's another five years or so ... or less, or more," he said. "I do reflect on what I've done for the 85 years that I have been given so far. And I'm proud of what I've done."


Koch's name will forever be remembered in his native city.

“Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement Friday. “We will miss him dearly, but his good works - and his wit and wisdom - will forever be a part of the city he loved so much.” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Koch “was more than just the sum total of his accomplishments.” “Mayor Koch was larger than life," she added. “He stood taller than the bridge that bears his name. His sense of humor and tenacious spirit personified this town. Ed Koch was New York."

To my mind, the relationship which defined Koch's fame in New York was his animosity with the criminal activist, Al Sharpton, who came to national fame in the Tawana Brawley fraud.

... the Rev. Al Sharpton, with whom Koch clashed repeatedly, called hizzoner a man who “fought for what he believed. He was never a phony or a hypocrite,” said Sharpton. “He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said.” ... Koch long had an uneasy relationship with the city's black leaders, but the one-two punch of the 1986 Howard Beach race beating and the 1989 shooting death of a black teen in Bensonhurst proved fatal to his mayoralty. He lost the 1989 Democratic primary to Dinkins, who became the city's first black mayor.

One thing I liked about Koch was his effusive Jewishness.

Edward Irving Koch was born Dec. 12, 1924 in the Bronx, the son of a Polish-Jewish furrier, but actually grew up in Newark, N.J. One of three kids, he grew up idolizing his big brother Harold, who died in 1995. In a kids book Koch wrote with his sister called “Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother,” he recounted how his brother set him on the path of City Hall by telling him to do something he’s good at.


Koch's battles with Mario Cuomo led to questions about whether Koch was gay.

Though most famous famous for being mayor, he served eight years in Congress before setting his sights on Gracie Mansion in 1977. Koch was the dark horse in a crowded field seeking to oust hapless Abe Beame from City Hall. But on primary day, Koch lead the pack followed closely by then Secretary of State Mario Cuomo — setting the state for brief but brutal runoff battle that Koch won. Cuomo refused to quit and carried on as the Liberal Party candidate, over the objections of his own advisers and the Democratic Party. And on the streets, some of Cuomo's supporters took the campaign to a new low by posting signs reading, “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo,” a reference to longstanding rumors that Koch was gay. ... He was a champion of gay rights, but his own sexuality was off-limits for discussion. And his public appearances with Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, on his arm did little to banish the rumors. “I have a social life,” the lifelong bachelor once said. “But I don't discuss it.”

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