Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Breaking News

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch Dies at 88

Former Mayor Edward Koch, who presided over New York City during the turbulent late 1970s and ’80s and came to personify the city with his wry and outspoken style, died on Friday at the age of 88, his spokesman said.

As mayor from 1978 to 1989, the forceful, quick-witted Koch, with his trademark phrase “How’m I Doing?,” was a polarizing figure and the city’s constant promoter.

Koch died of congestive heart failure at about 2 a.m. (0700 GMT) at New York-Presbyterian hospital after a year of repeated hospitalizations, the spokesman for Koch said.

Koch was credited with lifting New York from crushing economic crises to a level of prosperity that was the envy of other U.S. cities. Under his leadership, the city regained its fiscal footing and undertook a building renaissance.

But his three terms in office were also marked by racial tensions, corruption among many of his political cronies, the rise in AIDS and HIV, homelessness and a high crime rate. In 1989, he lost the Democratic nomination for what would have been a record fourth term as mayor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the flags at all city buildings would fly at half-staff in Koch’s memory.

“In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader,” Bloomberg said. “His spirit will live on not only here at City Hall, and not only on the bridge the bears his name, but all across the five boroughs.”

Koch had a quip for every occasion and once said he wanted to be mayor for life. He was the only U.S. mayor to have a bestselling autobiography that was turned into an off-Broadway musical. This week, “Koch,” a documentary about his turbulent three terms as mayor, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art. Koch was unable to attend the premier.

“I don’t think there was anybody who had more fun being mayor as Ed Koch,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is in the race to be the city’s next mayor, said at the premier.

“Here was a mayor who was a combination of a Lindy’s waiter, a Coney Island barker, a Catskill comedian, an irritated school principal and an eccentric uncle,” New York writer Pete Hamill said in a 2005 discussion of Koch’s legacy. “He talked tough and the reason was, he was tough.”

NEW YORK NATIVE

Born into a Jewish immigrant family in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924, Edward Irving Koch went on to attend City College and later earn a law degree from New York University.

He entered politics in the 1950s in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, winning a seat on the city council, and later went to Washington, where he served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1977, he made a second attempt running for mayor of New York City, and proved to be an agile campaigner. To combat rumors he was gay, former beauty queen Bess Myerson began appearing by his side at campaign events.

Koch later admitted the two were never romantically linked. Koch remained a bachelor all his life and refused to answer questions about his sexuality even in his later years.

After two successful terms in office – he was returned for a third term with 70 percent of the vote – Koch’s star had began to fade. A corruption scandal involving his ally, Queens Borough President Donald Manes, never implicated Koch, but it damaged his reputation with voters.

Koch’s attempt at a fourth term failed when he lost his party’s nomination to Manhattan borough president David Dinkins, a man as quiet and deliberative as Koch was bold and abrasive. Dinkins would go on to be the city’s first black mayor.

“People became tired of Koch’s personality,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Urban Research Center at New York University. “He was a remarkable mayor but one with a big mouth. After 12 years you have to change the lyrics.”

After leaving office, Koch wrote articles on everything from Middle East politics to movie reviews, hosted a radio show and served as a judge on television’s “The People’s Court.”

He has remained a formidable figure in New York politics, endorsing candidates and offering political commentary on the local NY1 TV station. He has been a strong ally of New York’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and in 2010 he formed New York Uprising, a political action committee designed to fight corruption in state politics.

In 2008, Koch announced he had secured a plot in Manhattan’s Trinity Cemetery, telling the New York Times: “The idea of leaving Manhattan permanently irritates me.”

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.