On the day that a documentary about his life and work is set to open in New York and other cities, iconic New York Mayor, Ed Koch, has passed away. Koch, who was 88, died of congestive heart failure early Friday at New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to spokesman George Arzt.
Long after he reigned as Mayor of New York during turbulent years 1978 through 1989, Koch, lanky and feisty, remained a fixture in New York political and cultural life, his charisma and humor coming to symbolize a city of optimism and durability, no matter how much the Manhattan skyline would change.
After leaving Gracie Mansion, Koch returned to practicing law, and also hosted a radio show while appearing on television and in films as himself, including “Sex and the City,” “Spin City” and “Picket Fences” and the films “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and “The First Wives Club.” He was also a judge on the syndicated show, “The People’s Court” and his best-selling biography was turned into an off-Broadway musical. In all, Koch, who would remain a bachelor his entire life, wrote 17 books—including “All the Best: Letters from a Feisty Mayor” (1990) and “Ed Koch on Everything” (1994).
“In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. “His spirit will live on not only here at City Hall, and not only on the bridge that bears his name, but all across the five boroughs.”
Koch was no less a fan of Bloomberg. “I think Mayor Bloomberg is one of the great mayors of the city of New York, if not the greatest,” he told MetroFocus Rafael Pi Roman in a December broadcast. “He has vision. I like to think I made a contribution, which was basically rallying New Yorkers and saying we will overcome, and building the foundation.”
Koch added, “But [Bloomberg] has this vision which allowed him to create a tower of strength here in New York and he’s low key. He is not a back-slapper. But he is a guy who knows how to get things done. And while, when you’re the victim of catastrophe, natural or otherwise, you are never going to see the sun for the clouds, I am telling people that we are lucky to have him.”
Bloomberg said the flags at all city buildings would fly at half-staff in Koch’s memory.
BORN IN THE BRONX, DEVOTED TO THE CITY
Edward Irving Koch was born December 12, 1924 in the Bronx. The son of a Polish Jewish furrier, Koch was the second of three children. His family later moved to Newark and Koch attended New York’s City College until he was drafted into the Army in 1943. He served as an infantryman in Europe, for which he earned two battle stars. Once the war ended, he put his German-language skills to work in Bavaria, where he was tasked with removing Nazi public officials from their jobs, among other duties. He was discharged from the Army in 1946 and received a law degree in 1948 from New York University. Afterwards, he practiced law for two decades, and was a founding partner of Koch, Lankenau, Schwartz & Kovner in 1963.
In the early 1950s, Koch drifted into politics, working as a street-corner speaker for Adlai Stevenson and joining the Village Independent Democrats while living in Greenwich Village. He won a seat on the city council and later went to Washington, where he served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the late 60s, he became an outspoken opponent to the Vietnam War and backed Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid.
With former Miss America Bess Myerson by his side, to help mitigate rumors that he was gay, Koch proved a crafty candidate for mayor, winning his first of three consecutive terms in 1977. He was defeated by Manhattan borough president David Dinkins in his bid for a fourth term, and was the last mayor to attempt four terms before Mayor Bloomberg established the current three-term limit.
“People become tired of Koch’s personality,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of Urban Research Center at New York University, in a Reuters article. “He was a remarkable mayor but one with a big mouth. After 12 years you have to change the lyrics.”
But he never faded from the scene he loved so dearly and so long.
Asked by Pi Roman to reflect on the best things about being mayor of New York, Koch said, “The best days were actually the indication that New Yorkers were willing to sacrifice at the very beginning. When I said to them if you follow me I will lead you across the desert, and they followed–and unlike Joseph in Egypt, where he first had six years of bounty and then six years of famine, we had six years of famine and six years of bounty to follow, which made it easier frankly because then you can reward people.”
Koch added: “I get up every morning, I am in my eighty-ninth year now–I just celebrated my eighty-eighth birthday. And so help me, I get up every morning and say ‘Oh! I am still in New York.’ And it is so lucky to be in New York.”
You can watch both parts of our interview with Mayor Koch, below:
After 9/11, Koch took to the airways and print. ‘‘New Yorkers all like to think we’re tough,’’ said former mayor Ed Koch in 2002. ‘‘But we saw 3,000 people incinerated before our very eyes and that has a very long impact.’’
In recent years, he’s been back in the spotlight, and “Koch” the documentary is poised to keep him there.