February 1, 2013

Ed Koch, New York's feisty mayor, dies at 88

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — When Ed Koch was mayor, it seemed as if all of New York was being run by a deli counterman. Koch was funny, irritable, opinionated, often rude and prone to yelling.

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Ed Koch was a famously combative politician who rescued New York City from near-financial ruin during three terms as mayor.

AP

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In this Aug. 30, 2004, photo, former New York Mayor Ed Koch speaks at the first day of the Republican National Convention in New York.

AP

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Reaction to death of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch:

"In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader. 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." —New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
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"Although we disagreed on politics ... I have found that he was never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said. He fought for what he believed." — Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network.
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"He's the guy who saved our city. He paid off the loans on the federal government, ahead of time. So he did a lot of good stuff." —Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.
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"Ed Koch personified the spirit of New York. New York's mayor for life is now New York's mayor for eternity. May he rest in peace." — U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
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"He once said, 'I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone. This is my home.' Ed Koch will never leave New York City. He will exist forever in our hearts, and in the millions of lives he touched." —New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

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"Ed Koch embodied the highest ideals of public service, and his life was dedicated toward making New York— the city and our state — a better place for all." — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
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"New York would not be the safest big city in America today if Ed Koch hadn't spearheaded one of the most important criminal justice reforms in New York City's history as mayor: selecting Criminal Court judges based on merit instead of political connections." — Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
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"We will miss his keen mind, sharp wit and absolute devotion to making a great city the best in the world. While we mourn his loss, we know that the legacy of his mayoralty, his commitment to civil rights and affordable housing, and his civic leadership long after he left City Hall, will live on for generations." —New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

And it worked, for a while at least.

With a Bronx-born combination of chutzpah and humor, Koch steered New York back from the brink of financial ruin and infused the city with new energy and optimism in the 1970s and '80s while racing around town, startling ordinary New Yorkers by asking, "How'm I doing?" He was usually in too much of a hurry to wait for an answer.

Koch died of congestive heart failure Friday at 88, after carefully arranging to be buried in Manhattan because, as he explained with what sounded like a love note wrapped in a zinger: "I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone. This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."

Tributes poured in from political allies and adversaries, some of whom were no doubt thinking more of his earlier years in City Hall, before many black leaders and liberals became fed up with what they felt were racially insensitive and needlessly combative remarks.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement that although they disagreed on many things, Koch "was never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said. He fought for what he believed. May he rest in peace."

During Koch's three terms from 1978 to 1989, he helped New York climb out of its financial crisis through tough fiscal policies and razor-sharp budget cuts, and subway service improved enormously. To much of the rest of America, the bald, paunchy Koch became the embodiment of the brash, irrepressible New Yorker.

He was quick with a quip or a putdown, and when he got excited or indignant — which was often — his voice became high-pitched. He dismissed his critics as "wackos," feuded with Donald Trump ("piggy") and fellow former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ("nasty man"), lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.

"You punch me, I punch back," Koch once observed. "I do not believe it's good for one's self-respect to be a punching bag."

Or, as he put it in "Mayor," his best-selling autobiography: "I'm not the type to get ulcers. I give them."

Koch's favorite moment as mayor, fittingly, involved yelling. During a transit strike that brought the subways and buses to a halt in 1980, he strode down to the Brooklyn Bridge to boost the spirits of commuters who had to walk to work.

"I began to yell, 'Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We're not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!' And people began to applaud," he recalled.

New Yorkers eventually tired of Koch.

Homelessness and AIDS soared in the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall's response was too little, too late. Koch's latter years in office were also marked by scandals involving those around him and rising racial tension. In 1989, he lost a bid for a fourth term to David Dinkins, who became the city's first black mayor.

On Friday, Dinkins called Koch "a feisty guy who would tell you what he thinks."

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Additional Photos

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In this March 8, 1987, photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch gives a lift to Broadway dancer Ann Reinking during a performance of political satire on at the annual Inner Circle gathering of the New York Press Club in New York.

AP

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In this Oct. 17, 1980, photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch gestures as he escorts Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan into Gracie Mansion in New York.

AP

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This 1944 file photo shows Ed Koch during his service in the U.S. Army in France.

AP



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