Edward I. Koch, the master showman of City Hall, who parlayed shrewd political instincts and plenty of chutzpah into three tumultuous terms as mayor of New York with all the tenacity, zest and combativeness that personified his city of golden dreams, died Friday morning at age 88.
Mr. Koch’s spokesman, George Arzt, said the former mayor died at 2 a.m. from congestive heart failure. He was being treated at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital.
Mr. Koch had experienced coronary and other medical problems since leaving office in 1989. But he had been in relatively good health despite — or perhaps because of — his whirlwind life as a television judge, radio talk-show host, author, law partner, newspaper columnist, movie reviewer, professor, commercial pitchman and political gadfly.
Congressman Koch, as I prefer to remember him, was a feisty liberal in an era and district where liberalism was heralded as the new best way to govern. It’s hard to think of him as a man who championed the little guy and the underdog, who fought for racial equality and human rights both here and abroad.
Hard to believe for a man who later in his life hated racial quotas and integration, believing that a separation of the races would achieve racial harmony. Idiot.
Personally, I think his heart had given way long before he let on. He’s the first person I’ve ever known to become dumber as he got older.
Ed Koch was my Congressman while I was growing up. I recall an assembly at my junior high school he spoke at, and when he opened the floor to questions (this would have been about 1973,) yours truly piped up: “So when you running for mayor, Mistah Koch?”
My political instincts were honed at a very young age, you see. Five years later saw him taking the oath of office for Mayor.
Koch made the mistake of serving three terms as mayor. Three term mayors end up tarnishing whatever legacy they had and replacing it with one of brutishness and evil. For Koch, who is generally acknowledged to have saved the city from bankruptcy — he didn’t. We can truly credit his predecessor Abe Beame and Felix Royhaton, who held the city’s purse strings — his legacy became embroiled in racial hatred and unrest, culminating in the suicide of corrupt Queens politico and Koch ally Donald Manes ahead of a Parking Violations Bureau scam that saw people lining up, hands out.
And the final death blows to Koch’s legacy were the deaths of Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, and Yussuf Hawkins, all black. All killed by white men. Too, Koch’s failure to even nominally address either the crack cocaine epidemic or the outbreak of homelessness on city streets indicated a man mired in deep racial hatred, something he would return to time and again as he swung farther and farther to the right.
I had lunch with Hizzoner a few years ago, accidentally. We happened to be in the same restaurant and Koch would talk an ear off if you let him. So I did. He was too old and too infirm for me to let my anger out, but I did ask him what changed him, why did he go from an idealistic young progressive to (altho I didn’t term it this way, he took my meaning I’m sure) an embittered old fool.
Altho he claims it was the attempts by John Lindsay to build a housing project smack dab in a middle class neighborhood of Queens, that was in 1973, long before he ran for mayor. I know that’s not the truth. The truth is, he moved deliberately and purposefully because he knew he could not win the mayoralty as a liberal from Manhattan — worse, a gay liberal — since he’d need Queens and Staten Island and Brooklyn.
So his “turn” came in 1978 when he tossed his hat into the ring.
The problem is, he was successful at it, and started believing his own press.
Which is what makes him the quintessential NYC political hack.
I miss Congressman Koch.
Mayor Koch? Eh. Not so much!