My favorite memory of Ed Koch is a moment from one of the Democratic presidential primaries of the Eighties. He was in his hey-day: mayor of New York, omnipresent media yak-in-the-box, grand rebbe whose hand had to be kissed by any presidential candidate hoping to score with Jewish voters not only in NYC but Florida as well. Some protégé of his — Walter Mondale? Al Gore? — had scored, and there on the tube was Koch, bride at every wedding. “My mother always told me,” he said, punctuating his wisdom with shakes of his great bald head, “it’s better to win than to lose.”
He was a lot of fun — beneath the spritz he was sharp as a tack, you could not not watch him. His greatest accomplishment as a public figure was to have become mayor at a grim point in the city’s history, 1977, and by sheer personality, inject some interest and what seemed at first like hope into our lives. He was an extroverted, out-there urban type — give my regards to Broadway!
But, but . . . He was a false dawn for New York. The city’s finances stabilized — we would not default, though that was thanks mostly to the federal government. On his watch, however, crime continued to be a growth sector. He had no idea what to do about it. He entertained us, but he could not stop so many of us from being menaced, robbed, or killed.
He turned a blind eye to corruption. Koch started as a reform Democrat in the Village — he beat Carmine de Sapio, last of the bosses, on de Sapio’s home turf — yet as mayor he signed over whole boroughs to hacks and crooks: Stanley Friedman, and Donald Manes (who killed himself as the law finally closed in).
When Giuliani became mayor in 1993 and actually addressed crime and corruption, Koch blasted him out of childish envy and resentment. He wrote some foolish anti-Rudy book — “Nasty Man” I think the name was. As JFK said of Nixon, no class.
He was a passionate supporter of Israel, and his second-to-last political act was to back Bob Turner, the Republican media exec from Breezy Point, who took the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. Koch saw the GOP victory as a shot across Obama’s bow. Then Obama said a few nice things about Israel, and did a few correct things at the U.N. Koch swung obediently into line — and saw Obama revert to his ways as soon as he was reelected. As Mother Koch might have said: “Stupid!”
Well, he is gone, and the city and our lives are duller for it. God bless.
The one and only.