Friday, February 01, 2013
"Here was a mayor who was a combination of a Lindy's waiter, a Coney Island barker, a Catskill comedian, an irritated school principal and an eccentric uncle," New York writer Pete Hamill said in a 2005 discussion of Koch's legacy. "He talked tough and the reason was, he was tough."
Mixed feelings about the former NYC Mayor. Most people have them. I liked him more when he was no longer mayor, one could tune out the abrasiveness & overlook some of his views, his endorsements of Republicans (lousy Repugs for the most part, like Al D' Amato & Pete King), & even the ahs & ums that filled out his sentences. But I regularly tuned in to his radio show on an AM station way up dial that was owned by the Jewish Daily Forward.
I'm inclined to think he was right for New York City when he took office in 1978. NYC had a terrible image, much of it deserved. But anyone with a bully pulpit & unashamed to sound ignorant felt free to insult the City.* There were legit criticisms. The city was falling apart, dangerous, going bankrupt. But a lot of it was the usual barely disguised contempt for New York's diversity, an opportunity to express anti-semitic bigotry about "liberal New York Jews," hatred for LGBT (soon to endure the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic). The South Bronx had become a symbol for the city's decline. But Koch was having none of it. He loved New York. After Koch took office, if you mocked New York City on TV or in the papers, you did so at your own risk; you got it thrown back in your face by Mayor Ed Koch.
Ed Koch grew up in Newark NJ, when the city had a huge Jewish population. Newark was a tough place, too, even then. He saw combat in WWII. & when he became involved in politics, to advance his own ambitions in the Sixties, he had to join with a group of reform-minded upstarts to pull down the old Tammany Hall Democratic regime headed by the corrupt Carmine DeSapio. Koch became a congressman. In the 1977 mayoral primary, he ran against not only the seemingly hapless incumbent Abe Beame, but also Bella Abzug & Mario Cuomo. No shrinking violets there.
By Koch's third term, his administration was resembling something that could have come from Carmine De Sapio. He was bleeding allies & supporters. New Yorkers were weary of him. He failed to win a fourth term. But Ed Koch private citizen was nearly as formidable as Mayor Ed. Just as loud, abrasive, funny, infuriating, & public. He could very critical of New York City, never disparaging. He will be missed.
* There have always been people who hate cities, all the way back to when human beings first created something like a city. These people rarely reside in cities. They decry the crime, the immorality. But they really hate the diversity,the culture, the ability of people to coexist with other people they don't especially like.