As I was sitting on the 3 train on my way to work this morning thinking about Ed Koch and what I was going to write about him here, a stranger came up to me and asked me if I had heard about the former mayor’s passing. I told him I had and he said, “They’ll never be another one like him. I always admired him because he said what he meant and meant what he said, which is more than I can say about most politicians.”
I think we’ll hear a lot of that in the coming days and weeks.
During most of the Koch years I worked as a union organizer and business agent and, looking back, it seems that I spent much of that time protesting against Koch policies. Years later in one of my many interviews with the mayor, I said to him, “You know, Mr. Koch, you’re the best mayor I ever protested against.” He said, “I get that a lot, Rafael, I just wish you guys had realized how good I was a lot sooner!” And he laughed.
They’ll never be another one like him. I always admired him because he said what he meant and meant what he said, which is more than I can say about most politicians.
The first time I ever met the mayor personally was in the mid ‘90’s. My wife and I were having brunch at the Blue Water Grill in Union Square and so was the mayor, with a few of his friends. As my wife and I were leaving we passed by his table and to my surprise, he called me over. He said, “Rafael, I’ve been watching your work and you’re really getting better.” After a second of feeling flattered and elated at the fact that Mayor Ed Koch knew my name, watched me on TV and seemed to like my work, I did a mental double take and asked him, “Was I that bad to begin with?” He said, “ We can all always improve, even me!” And, of course, he laughed.
Ed Koch laughed a lot and he laughed a lot mostly at himself. I think that genuine and mischievous kid- kind-of-laugh of the mayor is one of the things I will most remember about him. I will also remember that there was absolutely no artifice to the man, that he always really did say what he meant and meant what he said. And, oh, yes: I will always remember that he loved this city and its difficult and unique citizens more than anyone I’ve ever known.
I’m very glad I had a final opportunity to speak to Mayor Koch on MetroFocus last December, the day after the big birthday bash held for him at Gracie Mansion. What you won’t see in the interview is what we did right after the cameras stopped rolling. The entire crew walked into the studio holding a cupcake with a lit candle and sang happy birthday. It wasn’t Gracie Mansion but you couldn’t tell that from looking at his face, which immediately broke into a wide, wide smile. He blew out the candle, thanked us, grabbed the cupcake and whispered, as if confessing a future sin, “I’m going to eat this later.”
In my twenty-three-year career as a journalist I have never written anything like this about a public official. I’ve always felt that I needed to keep my personal feelings about the people I’ve covered to myself. But I had to make this exception because, really, I just loved the guy and like millions of New Yorkers I will miss him for a long, long time.
May God bless and keep Ed Koch.
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