Powerhouse politician who served three memorable terms as mayor of New York
Ed Koch, who died last week aged 88, served three tumultuous terms as mayor of New York, during which he displayed all the tenacity, zest and combativeness that personified his city of golden dreams.
Koch was born in Crotona Park East in the Bronx, the second of three children of Louis and Joyce Silpe Koch, Polish Jews who had migrated to New York separately in the early 1900s. Louis was a furrier and a partner in a shop until it folded in the Depression in 1931.
The family then moved to Newark, sharing an apartment with Louis’s brother, who ran a catering business. At age nine, Edward, like his humbled father, began working for his uncle in a hat-and-coat-check concession. He later worked as a delicatessen clerk and went to school in Newark.
One day, when he was 13 and vacationing in the Catskills, he leapt into a lake, swam out and saved his six-year-old sister, Pat, from drowning. Though a B student, he was president of his school debating society.
Earned two battle stars
After his graduation in 1941, the Koches, back on their feet in the fur business, moved to Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. Koch was drafted in 1943 and earned two battle stars in Europe as an infantryman. After V-E Day, because he could speak German, he was sent to Bavaria to help remove Nazi public officials from their jobs and find non-Nazis to take their place. He was a sergeant when discharged in 1946.
After the war he went to law school at New York University. He received his degree in 1948, was admitted to the bar in 1949 and became a founding partner of Koch, Lankenau, Schwartz Kovner in 1963.
Koch began his life in politics in 1952 as a street-corner speaker for Adlai E Stevenson, who lost the presidential election to Dwight D Eisenhower. In 1956, already in his 30s, Koch moved out of his parents’ home, took an apartment in Greenwich Village and joined the Village Independent Democrats, a club opposed to Carmine De Sapio and the Manhattan Democratic organisation known as Tammany Hall.
De Sapio, a power broker whose dark glasses gave him a sinister air, could make or break legislators, judges, even mayors. It was Koch who ended the De Sapio era, thwarting his return to power in the district primary elections in 1963 and 1965. Heading a growing reform movement, Koch won a city council seat in 1966 and befriended liberal causes, like anti-poverty programmes and rent controls.