Hard not to like Ed Koch, former four-term Congressman and three-term Mayor of New York City who died early this morning, age 88, at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.
His kind will likely not be seen again, and more's the pity.
I first met the man on Primary Night 1961 at the Limelight Cafe near Sheridan Square where the anti-Tammany Village Independent Democrats of Jim Lanigan, Carol Greitzer and Koch, took a giant bite out of boss Carmine DeSapio's power structure. Koch was voluble, even garrulous... but witty.
(When DeSapio tried to retake his position as Greenwich Village district leader, Koch beat him head-to-head, two years later and again in 1965.)
Koch represented New York's 17th Congressional District from 1969 'til 1973, then, following a redistricting, the 18th CD 'til 1977 when he resigned to become Mayor of New York City after beating Bella Abzug, incumbent Abe Beame and Mario Cuomo in the Democratic primary.
Winning re-election in 1981 with 75% of the vote thanks to a cross-endorsement by the Republicans, Koch cast his gaze on Albany the following year but lost the Democratic primary for Governor to then Lieutenant Governor Cuomo.
It was widely believed that an interview he did with Playboy before he had announced his bid had killed his chances.
Asked about a possible run for Governor Koch responded:
"Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It's sterile. It's nothing. It's wasting your life, and people do not wish to waste their lives once they've seen New York! ... This rural American thing — I'm telling you, it's a joke."
After adding that living in Albany was a "fate worse than death," a destiny was sealed: the Governor's mansion was not in his future, but he became more popular than ever in the Big Apple and won a third term as Mayor three years later with an astonishing 78% of the vote!
But here's that lesson I spoke of... are you paying attention Hank Tucker, you fathead?
When the words from the Playboy interview were hurled in his face when he announced for Governor, Koch handled it in a way that only Koch could: "Wasn't that silly?" he said with that irrepressible laugh on his face.
No "I was misquoted" or "What I meant was...."
With one succinct line, he owned it, he repudiated it, he got on with his campaign.
Those beyond the boroughs couldn't forget his earlier words, but the media had to drop that line of attack.
Best quote about Hizzoner...
"When Ed Koch looks in the mirror, it's the greatest love story since 'Tristan and Isolde.'"
It was uttered by Koch's close friend and founding editor of the Village Voice Dan Wolf, later an advisor to his Mayorial administration.
Well written, Dean. I always liked the guy. On WCBS 880 News yesterday they had a Koch sound bite made after they named the Queensboro Bridge after him. He plaintively asked, "How about the George Washington Bridge?"
The quintessential New Yorker.