Ed Koch’s real legacy is a flourishing New York

By Dan Friedman, February 7, 2013
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Larger-than-life former mayor of New York: Ed Koch (Photo: AP)

Larger-than-life former mayor of New York: Ed Koch (Photo: AP)

Ed Koch, the larger-than-life, three-term Democratic mayor of New York City passed away early in the morning of Friday, February 1.

Although 88 and long retired from representative politics, he was an active pundit until the last, using his visibility as a platform for television appearances, political endorsements and, latterly, online film reviews at “Mayor at the Movies.”

His enduring legacy is the vibrant 21st century metropolis whose inhabitants, including the current Jewish three-term mayor, commemorated him at his funeral on Monday morning.

In January 1978 when he took over the mayorship, New York was in dire straits. The city was financially broke and uncreditworthy, its infrastructure was crumbling and the streets infamously dangerous. By the time he left office in December 1989, the parks were green, the coffers filling and, with the city safer, New York was well on its way to being one of the world’s leading tourist locations.

He proved to be truly a man for the moment. From day one, and throughout the 1980s, his garrulous wit and outsider sensibility restored belief to the five metropolitan boroughs that thrive on confidence. Though a Democrat, he was no party insider and thrived upon his reputation as a man of the people, regularly accosting commuters to ask them: “How’m I doing?”

Never married, Mr Koch was repeatedly questioned on his sexuality, a topic which he steadfastly refused to discuss — even throughout the Aids crisis which exploded during his tenure.

Mr Koch, however, who grew up in New York’s Bronx to Polish immigrant parents Yetta and Louis Koch, was loud and proud about his Jewish heritage. Long a fighter against antisemitism, his gravestone is inscribed with journalist Daniel Pearl’s last words: “My Father Is Jewish, My Mother Is Jewish, I Am Jewish.”

Last updated: 7:45pm, February 7 2013