Most people know about or have heard about former New York City mayor Ed Koch, whether they live in the city or have never even visited. His outgoing personality and charm helped make him a household name. Whether you loved him or hated him, it’s hard to deny the impact that Koch made on the city that he was deeply devoted to. Ed Koch was born on December 12, 1924 in the Crotona Park East area of Brooklyn in New York City. His parents were Louis and Yetta Koch. The family lived in Newark, New Jersey for several years to be closer to the theater where Louis worked. One of Ed’s first jobs was serving as a hat check boy at a dance hall in Newark.
Mayor Ed Koch graduated from Newark’s South Side High School in 1941. He was drafted into the U.S. Army two years later. Ed Koch was an infantryman with the 104th Infantry Division during World War II. He would later receive a World War II victory medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern campaign medal and a pair of campaign stars for his involvement in the United States’ efforts in Europe during the war. He rose to the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged from the Army in 1946. After returning to America, Ed Koch attended the City College of New York and the New York University School of Law in New York City. Ed Koch earned his law degree in 1948 and practiced law independently from 1949 to 1964. He was a law partner in the firm Koch, Lankenau, Schwartz and Kovner frm 1965 until 1968.
Mayor Ed Koch’s first foray into politics was his decision to run for the Democratic nomination for the New York State Assembly in 1962. Ed lost to the incumbent candidate William Passannante that year, but he didn’t let that defeat discourage him. He ran for Democratic Party leader in the Greenwich Village district in 1963 and defeated Tammany Hall member Carmine DeSapio. Koch won re-election in 1965 before moving on to the New York City Council from 1967 to 1969.
Mayor Ed Koch served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 until 1977. He was the Democratic representative for New York’s 17th congressional district from 1969 to 1973 and represented the state’s 18th congressional district from 1973 to 1977 after redistricting. During his time in office, Koch was against the civil rights marches in the South and the war in Vietnam. He supported efforts against Communism and furthering human rights.
Koch initially described himself as a “plain liberal.” However, he wasn’t afraid to cross party lines from time to time. Ed surprised many liberal Democrats when he opposed New York City mayor John Lindsay’s plan to construct a brand new 3,000 person housing development in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Queens. Koch decided to speak out after discussing the proposal with local residents and learning that many of them didn’t like the idea.
Mayor Ed Koch belonged to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Relations while he was in Congress. In 1976, he recommended that the U.S. government terminate its supply shipments and military support of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Uruguay. Later that summer, members of the CIA were made aware of the fact that several Uruguayan intelligence officers had talked about possibly using Pinochet’s secret police, the Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) to terminate Koch. This revelation wasn’t taken seriously until Augusto’s opponent Orlando Letelier was killed in September of that year. Letelier was assassinated in Washington D.C., where he had been hiding in exile. Future president George H.W. Bush, who was the CIA’s Director of Central Intelligence at the time, told Ed Koch about the threat on his life. Ed Koch requested protection from both the FBI and the CIA, but they were not granted.
Edward Koch first ran for mayor of New York City in 1973. He didn’t receive much support and eventually dropped out of the Democratic primary. He ran again in 1977 and secured the Democratic party’s nomination. The city’s blackout in the summer of 1977, the rioting that followed and Ed’s “law and order” campaign that focused on public safety are what many consider to be Koch’s keys to success in winning the election that year.
Ed Koch would remain the city’ mayor until December 1989. Some of the events that occurred during his time in office were”
– The 100th birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1983
– The shooting of four teenagers in a New York City subway car by Bernhard Goetz in December 1984
– The United Nations’ 40th anniversary in 1985.
– The Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1986
Mayor Ed Koch approved the addition of 3,500 city police officers during the 1980’s and allowed officers to have more authority in handling the homeless. He was also a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights. It was no secret that Ed lived his city, although some thought he took his devotion to his hometown a little too far at times.
Mayor Ed Koch ran for governor of New York in 1982, but lost the Democratic primary to Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo. During the campaign, Koch was quoted in a Playboy magazine article as having called upstate New York life as “sterile.” He also expressed a strong dislike for being required to live in Albany, New York if he was elected governor in that article. Those sentiments are what some say persuaded many voters to cast their ballots against Mayor Ed Koch in the election.
Some of Mayor Ed Koch’s actions were controversial. His position on crime and proposed banning of radios on city buses and subways drew harsh criticism by prominent leaders in the African American community and from the American Civil Liberties Union. He backed the city’s health department when they closed New York City’s gay bathhouses in 1985 due to rising AIDS cases, despite his pro-lesbian and gay rights stance.
Mayor Ed Koch’s third term as mayor didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first two. Several corruption scandals showed that Mayor Ed Koch had allowed some of his Democratic allies to fill a number of city agency job openings with people who were loyal to the party. No evidence was found that Koch recouped any financial benefit from these appointments, but it did contradict his assertions that his city government offices were devoid of any kind of patronage.
Ed Koch also suggested prohibiting bicyclists from riding along Madison, Park and Fifth Avenues Monday through Friday. Enough public outcry forced this decision to be reversed. He also received criticism for backing Al Gore and siding against Jesse Jackson in the 1988 Democratic presidential primary. Koch had previously supported Jackson, but changed his stance as he reminded voters about anti-semitic statements that Jackson had previously made. Ed also suffered a stroke in 1987, but was able to recover enough to fulfill his duties as mayor.
Mayor Ed Koch ran for his fourth term as New York City mayor in 1989. However, by that time his popularity, especially among black voters, had decreased significantly. He lost in the Democratic primary to David Dinkins. Dinkins went on to defeat Rudolph Guiliani in the mayoral election. Mayor Ed Koch’s political career was officially over.
After leaving the mayor’s office, Ed Koch returned to practicing law. He became a partner at the firm Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn and Berman LLP. He also served as a political commentator and as the judge on The People’s Court from 1997 to 1999. Koch was an adjunct professor at New York University, a visiting professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts and lectured regularly across the country.
Ed Koch loved watching movies. He even hosted his own movie review show, Mayor At The Movies, in 2009. Many of his reviews were also published in The Villager and The Huffington Post. He appeared in over five dozen movies and television productions. Ed also co-wrote a children’s book, Eddie, Harold’s Little Brother, with his sister Pat Koch Thaler in 2004. The book describes Ed as a young child trying to copy his older brother’s athletic prowess until he discovered his own strengths and talents.
Ed Koch continued to speak out against anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism in his later years. He endorsed both Democratic and Republican mayoral, congressional and presidential candidates throughout his post-mayoral career. He created the group New York Uprising to ask for redistricting reform across the state, and later spoke out against state legislators who didn’t uphold their pledges of support for Koch’s efforts.
Ed Koch passed away on February 1, 2013 from heart failure. He was buried three days later at Trinity Church Cemetery in Brooklyn. Many prominent local and national politicians and celebrities attended the service.
Ed Koch was a very outspoken person. He wasn’t one to sit back and just observe things that were going on in the world around him. He liked stirring things up from time to time, even if he would later receive criticism or backlash for what he said. Koch could definitely get on people’s nerves as well. One of his famous quotes was “I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers. Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.” Undoubtedly he did but he’s also one of the most revered and admired New York city leaders. Ed Koch will most assuredly remain very highly thought of in peoples’ minds for many more years to come.