Uncompromising mayor who revived New York





ED KOCH, who has died aged 88

of congestive heart disease, was mayor of New York for 12 years. His firm, if neurotic, leadership was critical in leading a recovery from financial crisis and unhappiness about crime. The current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said Koch's courage and financial prudence "helped to lift the city out of its darkest days".

His best times came during the first of his four-year terms, from the start of January 1978. He continued until defeated by New York's first African-American mayor, David Dinkins, in 1989.

Koch's first political service to the city had come as a congressman, from 1969 to 1977. He called himself "a liberal with sanity"; many felt as his career progressed, it was his way of saying he was no longer a liberal.

Like many New York Jews of his generation, he was a proud New Yorker and a proud Jew. He moved to the right on many issues, becoming a strong supporter of "law and order", including the death penalty. In later years, he was as sympathetic to Republicans as to the Democratic party he had represented in Congress and at City Hall.

In the New York phrase, Koch "had a mouth on him". Pithy, pungent and often profane, Koch's utterances caused merriment; they also made him enemies. His unsuccessful 1982 campaign for governor of New York was not helped by his publicly expressed scorn for both the New York suburbs and for upstate, or by his calling the state capital, Albany, with a metropolitan-area population of 870,000, "a small town".

His defeat in 1989 may have been hastened by his bluntly giving his opinion that Jews would be "crazy" to vote for Jesse Jackson, the strongest black candidate up until then for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A lifelong bachelor, Koch was dogged for years by rumours, hints and outright statements that he was gay. That gave him problems both with straight people who were homophobic, and with gay people who resented his supposed insistence on staying in the closet. His way of handling this delicate issue was, well, indelicate. When a journalist asked him point-blank whether he was gay, he replied: "When did you last have oral sex with your lover?"

Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx, but his parents, conservative Jews who had migrated from Poland, moved to Newark, New Jersey, when he was a child. His father worked at a cinema and the teenage Ed had jobs there.

He graduated from high school in 1941 and two years later was drafted into the US army. He fought in the Ardennes "Battle of the Bulge", won two battle stars and was promoted to sergeant.

He returned to study at City College on the GI bill and then graduated from New York University law school in 1948. After some years as a solo lawyer he became one of the founders of a law firm. In the meantime he defeated a major New York figure, Carmine DeSapio, boss of the Manhattan organisation known as Tammany Hall, for a place on the city council in 1963, before progressing to Congress.

Koch's third term as mayor was sullied by charges of corruption, mostly involving patronage jobs, though he was not accused of profiting directly.

His books included a best-selling memoir, Mayor (1984), which was surprisingly successful as a musical, and one for children, written with his sister Pat, who survives him. After his mayoralty, Koch threw himself into numerous ventures - he became a film critic, and a documentary film on his life has just been released.

The inner insecurity masked by his jovial combativeness was hinted at by his trademark question to voters and all he encountered: "How'm I doing?"

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