I am very blue this morning to hear that Ed Koch has passed on. The photo above says it all: the New York I moved to in 1987 is increasingly gone (the guy in the foreground, the buildings in the background).
He literally embodied the spirit of this city in a way no subsequent mayor has. Much like FDR had for the nation during the Depression, Koch began NYC’s turnaround from a crime-ridden garbage dump to a major international tourist destination almost on sheer exuberance and will power alone. And he’s the kind of Democrat I’ve always loved: pragmatic, moderate, hard-nosed in negotiations (with gold stars for being working class and ethnic).
I saw him in person many times, and actually got to meet him and even chat with him twice. Once about ten years ago when he came to speak at New-York Historical Society (where I was p.r. director) — he was hale and hearty then. And surprisingly tall, a few inches taller than me. I was surprised that he came with no entourage, but he certainly commanded any room he walked into. The second was last year, at a Common Good forum. By then he wasn’t doing too hot. Frail, distracted, even nodding off (and in fact he had to cancel before the event started because he wasn’t feeling well). When a man is in his late 80s, it’s kind of amazing that he’s out of the house in the first place!
Was he gay? It would really be something if he was New York’s first gay mayor, but we may never know. If he was, of course, I’m pissed at him for not owning up to it. It sure would have made life a lot easier for a lot of other people a lot sooner. But of course, I also have to love his patented response to the question in later years, which was “Fuck off.” That was Koch — and New York — in a nutshell.