Friday, February 01, 2013

ED KOCH 1924-2013.

I never liked the guy and, though I lived through all three of his terms as Mayor of New York, never voted for him. But I do think that, unlike many politicians, he genuinely sought to serve his constituents; if he bent over for developers, it was because they brought money to the city, not because he had some Ayn Rand idea that the corporate class should rule. You can see this clearly in one of the instances when he didn't bend over: When he bucked Donald Trump -- who generally did very well under Koch's reign -- over his proposed Television City complex in 1987. The New York Times account almost comically misreads the situation:
But the stakes are higher this time than ever before. The decision by NBC to remain in New York or to relocate to New Jersey may hang in the balance... 
The political fortunes of the Mayor, buffeted for almost a year and a half by municipal scandals, could also turn on what NBC decides to do - and on whom the public blames if the network leaves or whom it credits if NBC remains. 
Navigating the political shoals will not be easy for Mr. Koch. The Mayor, who has often been accused of giving away too much of the city's light and air to its master builders, could win praise for turning down a powerful developer who had demanded too much. 
But if NBC does move to New Jersey, thus joining J. C. Penney and the Mobil Corporation in an exodus from Manhattan, Mr. Koch could be criticized for having failed to bend sufficiently to keep a vital part of the communications industry in New York.
You see how that worked out -- last night was the final episode of "30 Rock," not "30 Landmark Square, Stamford."  NBC, like many other corporations, sends some operations out to the sticks from time to time, but New York is big enough to stand it, and certainly too big to respond to economic blackmail. For years no one seemed to remember that, but Koch knew it and let you know he knew it. That was part of his success, and why people stuck with him.

As I've said before, I also admired his habit of saying "the people have spoken" after big trials like Bernhard Goetz's and Larry Davis', which I found appropriately humble and respectful. (He said it after he lost the 1982 Democratic Gubernatorial nomination to Mario Cuomo, too.) Nowadays people only remember his snide version of the saying after he lost the 1989 primary: "The people have spoken and they must be punished." Maybe that was always in the back of his mind when he used the shorter version. But it's something that he waited until the end of his political career to reveal it.

33 comments:

  1. DocAmazing10:36 AM

    Whatever else you may say about Koch, he was colorful, and colorful cities deserve colorful mayors.

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  2. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard11:59 AM

    I'm a little young to remember much of Koch's legacy but, even as a little kid, I had a sense of him being the quintessential New York mayor.

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  3. Roy T.12:23 PM

    Ed "I am not a homosexual" Koch? That Ed Koch?

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  4. hells littlest angel1:27 PM

    I also lived under Koch's mayorship, and I remember him as an Andy Rooneyishly (sure it's a word!) peevish bigot. I resented the caricature of the obnoxious New Yorker he helped to perpetuate with dumbass street signs (Seriously: "No Stopping, No Standing, No Kidding"; "Littering Is Filthy And Selfish, So Don't Do It").
    But Roy's more generous assessment of the guy is probably also accurate.
    So RIP, ya rotten old bastard.

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  5. Say what you will about Koch -- and I disliked him, profoundly, for all sorts of reasons -- he would have never pulled the kind of shit Bloomberg pulled on term limits.

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  6. synykyl1:38 PM

    I never cared for Koch either, but I liked him better than Giuliani or Bloomberg.

    I think Roy's assessment is fair.

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  7. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard1:45 PM

    The "other" Koch brother.

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  8. hells littlest angel1:53 PM

    "is probably *more* accurate", I mean. Grief distracted me.

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  9. Jay B.1:56 PM

    You are a big-hearted guy Roy, nice summary.

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  10. John D.1:57 PM

    Well, that's exactly it. I never liked him either, but he looks like a prince compared to some of the creatures that followed in his footsteps.

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  11. aimai3:11 PM

    For me, certainly, age has dimmed my memories of him and although I lived in NY for a summer back then I wasn't a New Yorker. I have a feeling, though, that if we went back to those days and looked at the Newspapers and remembered the issues of the day clearly we'd find he was a hideous little embarrassing side show of a humunuculous of a man--as big city mayors are wont to be.

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  12. montag24:23 PM

    For those of us out in the hinterlands, Koch was often portrayed--more admiringly than viciously--as a "typical" New Yorker, with a strong pragmatic streak, as if he were the lone source of common sense in a gaggle of screaming yellow zonkers.

    I doubt that this was even close to true, but all mythmaking requires either small truths or at least some verisimilitude of same. New York has always seemed to attract outsized characters to the office, and he was no exception. He was, however, an old-school politician, very much a gladhander with a highly developed sense of where his power base was, which was probably why he danced away from addressing the AIDS epidemic in his city, something for which he is still not remembered fondly, and probably rightly so.

    Nevertheless, after the Giuliani/Kerik scandals and Giuliani's presidential run escapades, by comparison, he's going to be remembered with more nostalgia than he might have otherwise.

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  13. mrstilton4:27 PM

    I didn't like him either but he was better than much of what followed. (That does seems to be the rapidly-gelling consensus, doesn't it?)

    The "vote for Cuomo, not the homo" stuff back in the gubernatorial primary was despicable. The charitable part of me wants to think Koch lost the primary all by himself, what with his sheeting asides about the horror of having to live in a godforsaken village like Albany, slagging off upstate as nothing but inbred slack-jawed yokels, etc. But there are, what, only about 117 of those fuckers north of the Bronx border, right? So it had to be the homo-bashing that cost him the race. Thank Christ it did, too; but the homo-bashers can still go fuck themselves, sideways.

    I did like his self-deprecating side. But that was more than offset by his friendship with that prim sociopath Archbishop O'Connor.

    The most interesting and significant thing about Koch, sub specie aeternitatis and all that, is probably the fact that he was one of those rare guys who is much bigger than he comes across on TV. If you watched him bobbleheading you'd probably guess he was a scrawny 5'8" or so. Yet he was about six two, and probably packed a pretty solid punch back when he was young.

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  14. Derelict5:30 PM

    Okay, I'm ancient. I remember New York under John Lindsey and Abe Beam. Koch was colorful, but in the broad spectrum of New York mayors, I think he stacked up okay. Not great, not bad--just okay. Beam brought the city through the toughest financial times the place had ever known. Lindsey made himself plenty of press while working the levers behind the scenes in ways that usually resulted in garbage strikes.


    Of course, those who followed Koch blazed paths of their own that few sane people would follow. Dinkins managed to smash our hopes by being singularly ineffectual. Guiliani was, well, in it for himself. If the rest of New York happened to go along for the ride, great. If not, well, that was fine with him, too. And, of course, Bloomberg who's reign continues.

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  15. Leeds man5:43 PM

    Question for the Noo Yawkers; who would have been your dream mayor, at any period? I'm in a whimsical mood, what with Rob Ford being my current Burgermeister.

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  16. AGoodQuestion6:03 PM

    I was never a fan, although unlike Roy I never had a chance to vote for or against him. Still, the Grey Lady accused him of "having failed to bend sufficiently" for corporate barebacking. It's kind of refreshing when that accusation can even be made.

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  17. AGoodQuestion6:12 PM

    Ah, so your also a Toronto man. I love the city. As for Ford, he's colorful too, in much the same way as the floor of a porn theatre is.

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  18. The scene with the fictionalized Koch character in Shortbus made me embarrassingly weepy. J.C. Mitchell clearly was very angry with Koch for having been silent on AIDS while living in the closet. But instead of showing the guy being a hypocrite, or having another character voice that anger, he just has Koch quietly, sadly say that that's what happened and that he realizes it was wrong. And this is addressed to a stranger who's never heard of him, while sitting on the sidelines at a sex party. What a strange, great way to accuse and forgive someone at the same time, by giving an imaginary version of him a chance to be honest and happy.

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  19. Koch endorsed both Giuliani and Bloomberg, FWIW.

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  20. edroso8:05 PM

    That's a tricky question because, no matter how good you may seem for a big job in the New York power structure, events will challenge you in ways that might completely unhorse you. Take Anthony Alvarado. I always thought Richard Ravitch would make a good mayor, but who knows.

    I was happy to vote for Freddy Ferrer. He's a hack, but the plucky kind of hack who just might have pulled it off.

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  21. Nelson9:58 PM

    Yes, that one. The toxic closet case who gave us Manes, Myerson and Sukhreet Gabel. Now in hell playing Scrabble with his pal Roy Cohn, soon to be joined (hopefully) by his other pals Norman and Midge. Good riddance.

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  22. calling all toasters11:19 PM

    This is a trick question. It's actually impossible to be a good mayor of New York. Your best hope is to be sandwiched between someone ineffectual and someone corrupt/power-mad, and to look good by comparison.

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  23. Snarll12:49 AM

    My favorite in that series was "Don't even THINK of parking here".

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  24. Snarll12:56 AM

    a hideous little embarrassing side show of a humunuculous of a man


    Actually he was absurdly tall, which always surprised me when I saw him (at a distance) in person, because on TV he always came across as about 5'5" and kind of a poor man's Frank Perdue.

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  25. Snarll1:01 AM

    Dennis Duggan used to love telling the story -- usually after hours at the Lion's Head, and even then he lowered his voice because the Mayor's spies could be anywhere -- about the strapping young black man who was paid handsomely in 1977 to leave town and move far away. Sadly there were never more details than that and it sounded like gossip passed around the City Hall pressroom on slow afternoons, but he loved the tale and told it more than once.

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  26. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard4:12 AM

    Now THAT is damning with faint praise, indeed. I don't know if WWRL has old shows archived, but a fair number of callers to Mark Riley's show were commenting on the Koch legacy, and the closing of Sydenham Hospital in Harlem in 1980 is still a source of anger. I'm glad that enough people are remembering all of his legacy, so that those of us who were still pups during his mayoralty can get an unvarnished view of the man.

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  27. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard4:17 AM

    G.G. Allin! **DUCKS**

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  28. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard4:42 AM

    I liked Freddy Ferrer- he was a damn good Bronx borough president and quite a bit of economic redevelopment took place under his tenure. I used to work in the Longwood section of the South Bronx, which became a goddamn moonscape after the bad, burning days. In the early 90's, construction of businesses and town houses took place and, while the neighborhood was certainly no garden spot afterwards, it wasn't exactly a hell-hole.
    My favorite memories of Freddy Ferrer, though, were his speeches at the kickoff of the Tour de Bronx. I'd ride in the cohort coming down from the Botanical Garden, we'd ride as a group down the Grand Concourse to Borough Hall, where there'd be a rally, and Freddy, wearing spandex shorts, would give us a pep talk, then join us as we started the "tour" in earnest. Good times!

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  30. aimai9:51 AM

    I had no idea. Shows what I will do in pursuit of a good phrase. I hang my own head low which, given how short I am, brings me very close to the ground.

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  31. He was pretty good on People's Court.

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  32. Wow, New York is big enough to stand up to economic blackmail? Damn I admire you guys, no joke. Here in Chicago, when the Chicago Mercantile Exchange says "jump", city hall first asks how high, and then humbly begs them not to leave.

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  33. I live in a city that had a colorful mayor, as well. Marion Barry. I am way done with color and charisma. I don't care if they're dull as dishwater, I just want a mayor that can run a city. Or perhaps colorful cities do deserve colorful mayors. God, I hope not..

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