The biggest meme on Twitter right now is Ed Koch. A prolific tweeter, the iconic former Mayor of New York City died this morning at the age of 88….but is still sending Tweets and Retweets as we type/read.
As one follower noted:
As memories of Koch, New York mayor from January 1, 1978, to December 31, 1989, pour in via Twitter, Facebook, and every other medium from friends, fans, and admirers worldwide, Ed Koch is giving the world one last laugh via whoever he put in charge of his Twitter account.
Koch died at New York Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital of congestive heart failure at 2:00 a.m. Friday morning. He has been experiencing medical, including coronary problems, since 1989. It didn’t slow him down one bit, however. He enjoyed an active life as a “television judge, radio talk-show host, author, law partner, newspaper columnist, movie reviewer, professor, commercial pitchman and political gadfly.” (New York Times)
Koch, a biographical documentary film, opens in theaters nationwide, and the trailer gives a glimpse of Ed Koch the man.
Trailer from the documentary:
It’s a poignant day for those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s seeing this dynamic man on television and on the covers of newspapers. As mayor of NYC during the turbulent years of the 70’s and 80’s, Koch definitely had his share of worries. But he never allowed the challenges of office — racial conflicts and municipal corruption scandals — mar his exterior persona.
“I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers,” he told reporters at his $475 rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village on his 1978 inauguration day. “Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.”
Shockingly outspoken, Koch embodied the family New York spirit. He was as fierce as he was friendly, and one of his most famous quotes is “You punch me, I punch back. I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”
Koch, the self-described “little Jewish kid from the Bronx,” was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of Yetta and Louis Koch, who were Polish immigrants. He came from a family of conservative Jews who originally lived in Newark, New Jersey. Koch served as an infantryman in the United States Army with the 104th Infantry Division from 1943-1946. Koch graduated from City College of New York in 1945, and New York University School of Law in 1948. He became involved in city politics as a Democrat, and later shifted towards the right of center.
Her served as the Democratic U.S. Representative from New York’s 17th congressional district from 1969-1973. He resigned to become mayor of New York City.
When Koch became Mayor in 1978, he found former Mayor Fiorello La Guardia‘s desk in the hallway where it had been sitting unused since Mayor Beame had been in office. Beame preferred a George Washington replica desk. Koch, at just a little over six feet tall, was much taller than La Guardia, who was only about 5’2″. Koch’s knees barely fit under the desk. Koch’s reason for insisting that the desk be fitted for his use? “Why have a copy when you can have the original?” He had a city carpenter fix the desk so that he could use it. The carpenters actually made the desk too high, and after a while Mayor Koch quit using it, but he always kept it in his office.
Here’s the video:
A confirmed bachelor, Koch lived for politics, as is evident by the fact that he won 21 elections in 26 years. Koch’s few losses range from minuscule – a State Assembly race in 1962, to high-profile – the 1982 governor’s race against Mario Cuomo. He ended is political career with a Democratic primary in 1989, in which he was defeated by David Dinkins. (New York Times)
Because he was unmarried, the inevitable rumors circulated,and Koch was one of the first high-profile politicians to say the words:
“Whether I am straight or gay or bisexual is nobody’s business but mine,” in his 1992 biography, Citizen Koch.
In the 1977 mayoral race against Mario Cuomo, signs with the infamous slogan “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo” populated the streets of New York City. In 1989, Koch declared during a radio interview, “it happens that I’m a heterosexual.” (AP News Archive)
Koch was staunchly private about his personal life in spite of his outer flamboyance. He revealed very little about himself and was impatient with introspection. In another book, co-authored with Cardinal John J. O’Connor, Koch refused to discuss his sexual history:
What do I care? I’m 73 years old. I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It’s rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply “Fuck off.” There have to be some private matters left.” (New York Mag)
Most historians cite Koch’s most notable achievement as his role in leading the New York city government from near bankruptcy in the 1970s to the prosperity of the 1980s. In his tenure, he also began a renowned housing program. By the time he left office, he revitalized many old neighborhoods by revitalizing more than 200,000 housing units.
Perhaps one of his more memorable moments as mayor, and what he said was his favorite, was during the transit strike that crippled the city in 1980. Koch walked to the Brooklyn Bridge to encourage the commuters who were forced to walk to work because trains and buses weren’t running.
“I began to yell, ‘Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We’re not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!’ And people began to applaud,” the famously combative, acid-tongued politician recalled at a 2012 forum. (Source)
He considered his success in keeping people encouraged during the strike to be one of his most rewarding personal achievements in his tenure as mayor. This was Ed Koch at his best – on the streets with his people – and even he knew that.
Perhaps in the end, Mayor Koch will be remembered for his exuberant personality and his personal touch with people. He lived and breathed his city and its people – of all ages.
From Mariam Brillantes and The Wall Street Journal:
Ed Koch was so proud of his already-prepared tombstone at his burial site in Manhattan that he made sure I had a copy of the inscription when I interviewed him on Jan. 18 at his Midtown Manhattan law office, the day before he was hospitalized. The inscription reads, in part: “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people.”
The tombstone also included a quote from Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl:“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” (Daniel Pearl, 2002, just before he was beheaded by a Muslim terrorist.)
Koch said he wanted to be buried at a “bustling cemetery.” His burial site on 155thStreet and Amsterdam Avenue has a stone bench and a tree and he said he hopes people will visit.
“Well, that’s me, too,” he said of Pearl’s last words. “I think that statement is as important as the most holy of all statements in Jewish ritual,” Koch said. “I think that every Saturday, we ought to say, ‘My father’s a Jew, my mother was a Jew, and I’m a Jew,’ with great pride.”
We can see Ed Koch now, with his signature thumbs-up sign and u-shaped smile, enjoying the last laugh that he gave us via his Tweets. His goodbye to us, on December 19th, 2012, pretty much sums it all. “Citizens, remember your neighbors.”
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blog. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.