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Friday, February 1, 2013
Ed Koch dies at 88: the former mayor who 'gave New York its swagger back'
Over three terms, charismatic leader saw city through bankruptcy but also presided over a spike in violent crime
Ed Koch, a former New York mayor admired for his fiscal discipline and beloved for his big mouth, died Friday morning of congestive heart failure, a spokesman said. He was 88.
"New York City has lost an irrepressible icon and our most charismatic cheerleader," the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said in a statement. "Ed Koch was a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend."
Koch was admitted to a city hospital Monday with shortness of breath and was moved to intensive care Thursday. He had battled heart disease since leaving office in January 1990.
"I'm not the type to get ulcers. I give them," he wrote in Mayor, his autobiography, in a passage quoted by the Associated Press.
Koch won office in 1977 as the city struggled to recover from a bankruptcy bailout, a power blackout and a looting crisis. Through three terms, Koch cut city programs while improving popular services such as the subway. His sure leadership inside City Hall was sometimes invisible in the streets, however, as crime spiked with the crack cocaine epidemic and homelessness and the Aids crisis spread.
Koch bustled through each crossroads by force of personality. "I met him right after elected mayor," Jonathan Alter, the journalist, wrote Friday. "He gave New York its swagger back."
"RIP to one of NYC's great political characters," Tina Brown, the former New Yorker editor, wrote on Twitter Friday. "Koch made the Big Apple bigger."
The mayor's mischievous side is apparent in a video obituary produced by the New York Times with his participation. In the opening scene an elderly Koch turns to the camera, smiling, and asks, "Do you miss me?"
As part of a video Q&A series, Koch was asked what it was like to guest star alongside the Muppets in the 1984 movie Muppets Take Manhattan. "Better than playing with human beings," he answered. "Much more decent."
At times Koch's penchant for unvarnished speech drew the wrong kind of publicity. During the 1988 presidential race Koch, mayor of a city with ethnic and racial fault lines, said Jews would have "to be crazy" to vote for Jesse Jackson, the black candidate. Norman Mailer, the novelist, wrote that Koch "may have succeeded in blasting the last rickety catwalk of communication between Jews and blacks in this city" with the comment.
On Friday the Rev Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said Koch was "never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. … May he rest in peace."
In his ninth decade the mayor kept a Twitter account. One of the last messages posted was a happy birthday wish for himself – and a note of reciprocation for the affection his hometown had shown.
"Citizens, thank you for all your birthday wishes. I am 88 years old today and still lucky to live in the greatest city in the world."