By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
Edward Irving Koch, the outspoken, charismatic and often controversial former mayor of New York City passed away early Friday morning at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia hospital.
He was 88.
George Arzt, Mr. Koch’s spokesman, said the three-term mayor died from congestive heart failure.
“Earlier today, New York City lost an irrepressible icon, our most charismatic cheerleader and champion,” said present-day New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback.”
Mr. Koch was elected in 1977, one of the most tumultuous years in the city’s history.
Back then, prostitutes walked openly in a peep show-lined Times Square. Heroin addicts filled Union Square and Bryant parks and graffiti covered subways were the sites of daytime muggings. Citizens no longer entered Central Park at night.
In addition to the ‘Son of Sam’ mass shootings that election year, the city suffered a blackout during a July heat wave that set off citywide looting and thousands of fires at retail locations across the boroughs.
“It’s hard to reconcile the New York City of the “Mean Streets” era with the glory we see today, but Ed Koch was a huge part of making that happen,” said Faith Hope Consolo, Chairman of The Retail Group for Douglas-Elliman. “Before him we were literally bankrupt, told in essence to “Drop Dead” by the U.S. Government. Mayor Koch got us out of the fiscal hole, which gave us credibility with retailers who needed to be here — and made New York fun and cool again.”
Up to that point viewed as a liberal U.S. Congressman, Koch emerged as a right of center, ‘law and order’ candidate in crowded mayoral field that included then Mayor Abraham Beame, future Governor of New York Mario Cuomo and former west side Congresswoman Bella Abzug.
“At a truly pivotal moment in New York City’s history, we had a choice to save the city or allow it to continue on a path that would have destroyed it,” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York in a statement. “That we are still the greatest city on earth is a tribute to Ed Koch’s vision, tenacity and wisdom. None of what has been accomplished since would be possible if he hadn’t been mayor.”
Less than a month after President Jimmy Carter’s visit to bombed out Charlotte Street in the South Bronx and millions watched apartment buildings burn outside Yankee Stadium during World Series, Ed Koch was elected mayor.
Once in office, Koch emerged on a campaign to bring the city back from fiscal oblivion. He held down municipal spending and re-established the city’s soiled credit rating. Capital improvements began on the city’s dilapidated transportation infrastructure and the city began to rehabilitate its own repossessed and abandoned housing stock, selling off some for as little as $1.
“Mayor Koch was a stalwart leader for New York City,” said Bill Rudin Vice Chairman and CEO of Rudin Management Company Inc. “His dedication and love for New York never wavered. He led New Yorkers through many of the most trying times we’ve faced, including the near-bankruptcy of the 70s. His impact is beyond measure – he set the standard for how to manage our great city.”
Born in the Bronx in 1924, to immigrants from Poland, Ed Koch was raised in Newark, NJ, and served in the United States Army during World War II, rising to the rank of sergeant. Afterward, he received his BA from the City College of New York in Harlem and his JD from NYU Law School.
The young Koch got involved in politics with the Village Independent Democrats to overthrow then Tammany Hall Boss Carmine DeSapio. In 1963, Koch scored a coup by winning the election for Democratic leader in Greenwich Village. In 1965, after winning a rematch against DeSapio, Koch became a city councilman in 1967 where he served for two years until 1969.
After serving four terms in the House of Representatives, Koch served as Mayor for three terms, only the third person to do so after Fiorello LaGuardia and Robert Wagner.
Often as controversial as he was ostentatious, Koch was re-elected in 1981 on both the Republican and Democratic tickets. Faced with an improving city economy and a larger tax base, he used part of the budget surplus to increasing city hires after clashing with organized labor over new contracts in his first term.
The Tammany Hall political machine which had controlled much of city politics since the mid-1800’s, was never the same after the Koch led coup-d’état. The once powerful organization would have only one more functioning boss, Virgin Islander J. Raymond Jones.
Ironically, Mr. Jones would help mold both Charles Rangel and Percy Sutton, who as elected officials would form the Harlem ‘Gang of Four’ that produced the man who would defeat Koch in 1989, David Dinkins.
Dinkins, who served as mayor from 1990 to 1994, remembered his friend Ed Koch as someone who believed in the promise of New York and that the city could come back from the brink.
“People tend to forget that in the crisis of the mid-70s, it was Ed Koch who not only paid off the federal loan but paid it off ahead of time,” said Dinkins to WCBS 880 radio. “He knew how important it was for the image of the city to be of fiscal prudence and give we had just come through, this was tremendously important and he handled it well.”