Ed Koch was the quintessential New Yorker. Opinionated, brash, out-spoken, bombastic, fast-talking, outspoken and, yes, sometimes even rude. He would tell you exactly what he thought. If you were offended, too bad. I always pictured Ed Koch as a waiter at the Carnegie Deli, lecturing a patron on the inappropriateness of her lunch order: “Lady, one does not eat pastrami on white bread with butter. If you want it that way, go home to Nebraska.” As mayor, Koch would often walk the streets of NY and bellow to anyone in earshot: “How’m I doing?!” Most of the time, the answer was, “just fine.”
Ed Koch passed away today at 2:00 am of congestive heart failure at the age of 88, and we are all diminished by his passing. Koch was born in The Bronx on December 12, 1924 but raised in Newark. After high school he served in the Army in Europe during WW II where he won two Battle Stars. Then, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree at CCNY and a law degree at NYU Law School. After a 15 year career practicing law, he entered politics. In a portent of his career, he took on the powerful Tammany Hall politico, Carmine DeSapio – and won, becoming the Democratic party leader of Greenwich Village, where he lived. He then served on the City Council and in the House of Representatives before becoming mayor in 1977.
He served three terms as mayor. It was a tumultuous time. The City was just emerging from serious financial problems. Who can forget the famous Daily News backpage headline after President Gerald Ford refused to support financial assistance to the City: “Ford to NY. Drop dead.” But, Koch rallied the people with his tough love fiscal policies, budget cuts, and forthright style. During the 1980 transit strike he urged people to cope by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to work, and he led the march. The people loved him enough to elect him to three terms. In 1981 and 1985 he was re-elected with 75% of the vote. The media loved him because he was always good for a funny story or a snappy quote. In a city with a heavy Jewish influence, his strong, unwavering support of Israel was much appreciated. The Queensboro Bridge was renamed after him.
With his in-your-face style, Koch was Chris Christie before Chris Christie. He supported G. W. Bush over Gore in 2004, endorsed Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election bid, and had the temerity to criticize President Obama over what he (Koch) viewed as tepid support of Israel.
Koch was such a staunch New Yorker that he refused to allow the NY Giants to parade down the “Canyon of Heroes” after their Super Bowl win in 1987, saying “Let them parade in front of the oil drums in Moonachie [NJ].” In addition, he once quipped that he could “always get a better job, but New Yorkers would never get a better mayor.”
Yes, Ed Koch was one of a kind. Rest in peace Ed. We will miss you.