Feisty Koch, ex-NYC mayor, dies at 88

2013-02-02T00:00:00Z Feisty Koch, ex-NYC mayor, dies at 88The Associated Press The Associated Press
February 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

NEW YORK - When Ed Koch was mayor, it seemed as if all of New York was being run by a deli counterman. Koch was funny, irritable, opinionated, often rude and prone to yelling.

And it worked, for a while at least.

With a Bronx-born combination of chutzpah and humor, Koch steered New York back from the brink of financial ruin and infused the city with new energy and optimism in the 1970s and '80s while racing around town, startling ordinary New Yorkers by asking, "How'm I doing?" He was usually in too much of a hurry to wait for an answer.

Koch died of congestive heart failure Friday at 88, after carefully arranging to be buried in Manhattan because, as he explained with what sounded like a love note wrapped in a zinger: "I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone. This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."

Tributes poured in from political allies and adversaries, some of whom were no doubt thinking more of his earlier years in City Hall, before many black leaders and liberals became fed up with what they felt were racially insensitive and needlessly combative remarks.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement that although they disagreed on many things, Koch "was never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said. He fought for what he believed. May he rest in peace."

During Koch's three terms from 1978 to 1989, he helped New York climb out of its financial crisis through tough fiscal policies and razor-sharp budget cuts, and subway service improved enormously.

He was quick with a quip or a putdown, and when he got excited or indignant - which was often - his voice became high-pitched. He dismissed his critics as "wackos," feuded with Donald Trump ("piggy") and fellow former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ("nasty man") and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.

"You punch me, I punch back," Koch once observed. "I do not believe it's good for one's self-respect to be a punching bag."

Or, as he put it in "Mayor," his best-selling autobiography: "I'm not the type to get ulcers. I give them."

Homelessness and AIDS soared in the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall's response was too little, too late. Koch's latter years in office were also marked by scandals involving those around him and rising racial tension.

He had his tombstone inscribed with the last words of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by Islamic militants: "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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