Ed Koch, three-time mayor and 'quintessential New Yorker', dies

Ed Koch walks with supporters down a New York street. " He talked tough and ... he was tough." photograph: new york times

Ed Koch walks with supporters down a New York street. " He talked tough and ... he was tough." photograph: new york times


Ed Koch, the voluble three-term mayor who helped bring New York back from the brink of fiscal ruin in the 1970s and came to embody the city with his wry, outspoken style, died yesterday at the age of 88.

As mayor from 1978 to 1989, the forceful, quick-witted Koch, with his trademark phrase – “How’m I Doin?” – was a natural showman and tireless promoter of both himself and the city. He could also be a deeply polarising figure.

Koch died of congestive heart failure at about 2am at New York-Presbyterian hospital following a year of repeated hospitalisations, George Arzt, his spokesman, said.

Renaissance leader

Koch was credited with lifting New York from crushing economic crises to a level of prosperity that was the envy of other US cities. Under his leadership, the city regained its financial footing and underwent a building renaissance.

But his three terms in office were also marked by racial tensions, corruption among many of his political allies, the rise in Aids and HIV, homelessness and a high crime rate. In 1989, he lost the Democratic nomination for what would have been a record fourth term as mayor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Koch a quintessential New Yorker and one of the city’s great mayors.

“In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader,” Mr Bloomberg said.

Tall and mostly bald, Koch had a quip for every occasion and once said he wanted to be mayor for life. He was the only US mayor to have a bestselling autobiography that was turned into an off-Broadway musical.

This week, Koch, a documentary about his City Hall years, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art but Koch was unable to attend. Mr Bloomberg joked about the timing of his death, saying, “Leave it to Ed to leave just in time to maximise interest in ticket sales”.

Tough talker

“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.”

Koch attended City College and earned a law degree from New York University. He entered politics in the 1950s in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighbourhood, winning a seat on the city council, and later went to Washington, where he served four terms in the US House of Representatives.

In 1977, he ran for mayor of New York City, and proved to be an agile campaigner. To combat rumours that he was gay, former beauty queen Bess Myerson began appearing by his side at campaign events.

Koch later admitted the two were never romantically involved. He remained a bachelor all his life and refused to answer questions about his sexuality even in his later years.

Koch’s attempt at a fourth term failed when he lost his party’s nomination to Manhattan borough president David Dinkins, a man as quiet and deliberative as Koch was outspoken and abrasive. Dinkins would go on to be the city’s first black mayor.

“People became tired of Koch’s personality,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Urban Research Center at New York University. “He was a remarkable mayor but one with a big mouth. After 12 years you have to change the lyrics.” – (Reuters)