If there was ever a force of nature in politics and life, a model for talking, arguing and doing, it was Ed “How’m I doing” Koch, the former Councilman, Congressman and three term Mayor of New York City.
We could use more politicians like Ed who cared so deeply and worked so hard until finally his heart failed him at 88 years of age last Friday morning.
I met Ed in person for the first time on February 2, 1973 at the East Side Democratic Club, at 350 East 85th Street, in a second floor walk-up, over the Old Stream Bar.
The local democratic co-leader, Jerome Tarnoff, introduced Congressman Ed Koch, who had just begun his first campaign for Mayor. This was one of Ed’s many “meet-the-candidate” stops that night.
“This is basically a liberal town,” Ed began, “but the people are not ideologues and will not support a doctrinaire candidate.” He told the crowd that “one can be a liberal without being crazy.”
Among other things he said was that “talking about law and order is not pandering to the right.” As for those who felt the American flag had been commandeered by the far right, and had become uncomfortable sending the wrong signal, he passed out the flag of the City saying, “take it, take the flag of the city of New York. Take it, it’s free.” Afterwards he told me that people take the flag because, he said, “it’s chic.” I wore it. So did many others.
Ed didn’t make Mayor the first run but he came back strong and he asked if I would join his 1st Administration. I was a federal prosecutor by then and thought I could do more where I was. He may have been right but we all have to make our own way.
One day Ed took a walk in lower Manhattan with Henry Stern and myself. Henry was a Councilman at large who ran his first campaign for the office saying that the City Council was “less than a rubber stamp.” Asked why that was true during the campaign, he said, “because at least a rubber stamp makes an impression.”
Ed responded that day pretty much the way you saw him when he was “on the job,” reacting to everything around him, reaching out to shake the hands of passersbye, marveling at street art painted up the side of a whole brick building, talking about rent control apartments (he lived in one in Greenwich Village that he didn’t give up even when he was the Mayor living at the Mayor’s residence). Ed relished the street vendors and devoured their dogs and drinks. The talk was non-stop, back and forth, with waving arms, laughter, and about the personalities, politics and policy. Ed and the people he fought to understand and represent were one. He was immersed in politics and life 24/7 and anyone who saw him in his later years could see that there was only one retirement date for this lovable, caring and sometime incorrigible man.
When he announced for Governor, a good friend of mine, Charles Kaiser, a New York Times reporter, and I attended the announcement at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor’s residence. We were always Ed’s fans. The place was abuzz – klieg lights and microphones and open pads – Ed at the rostrum loving the moment. After all, no Mayor of New York had ever won another political office afterwards. Coincidence or curse? Who is to say? But it held true in Ed’s case when a Queens lawyer, Mario Cuoma, won the nomination. Ed would have never been happy in Albany as the Governor anyhow. During that campaign, he said, “Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life.”
New York City was Ed’s town. He loved it. He loved and needed the people as much as they needed him. He said he would never leave it, not even to use a New Jersey burial plot. He will be missed. He was loved by many. If only, we made politicians like Ed here in Virginia.