“Ed was a guy to whom I could turn if I wanted a straight answer,” he told Fox 5 News.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg saluted Koch as “a civic savior for our city in desperate times,” saying “the whole city was crumbling” when Koch was elected.
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. To much of the rest of America, the bald, paunchy Koch became the embodiment of the brash, irrepressible New Yorker.
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”), lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, 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.”
of two young black men who were set upon by gangs of whites in 1986 and 1989.
Koch later said the simmering tensions didn’t lead to his defeat. “I was defeated because of longevity,” he said. “People get tired of you. So they decided to throw me out.”
But he also said his biggest regret as he left office was tat “many people in the black community do not perceive that I was their friend.”
On Friday, Jackson said in a statement that Koch’s “leadership and legacy will never be forgotten in New York City, New York state or our nation.”
Koch wrote 10 nonfiction books, including “His Eminence and Hizzoner,” written with Cardinal John O’Connor. He also turned out four mystery novels and three children’s books.
He played himself in the movies “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and “The First Wives Club” and hosted “Saturday Night Live.” In 1989’s “Batman,” Gotham City’s mayor bore a definite resemblance to Koch.
New Yorkers eventually tired of Koch.
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 invAt 83, Koch paid $20,000 for a burial plot at Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space. 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.”
The funeral will be Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. Koch is survived by his sister, Pat Thaler, and many grandnieces and grandnephews.