Former Mayor Ed Koch dies at 88

By Joe Anuta

Queens mourned the loss of former Mayor Ed Koch Friday after the charismatic lawmaker succumbed to a heart condition overnight. He was 88.

Many borough lawmakers had close dealings with Koch, who served from 1978 to 1989 during a tumultuous time in the city’s fiscal history.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) served as Koch’s Queens representative from 1984 until the end of his term.

“For Koch, there was no problem too small or too big to address on behalf of his constituents throughout the city. If it was important to them, it was important to Mayor Koch,” Avella said in a statement.

Koch died of congestive heart failure at about 2 a.m. at New York-Presbyterian hospital, according to a Reuters report. The former mayor had been repeatedly hospitalized over the last year, and was taken to the intensive care unit Thursday afternoon with fluid around his lungs.

His hospitalization coincided with the premier of a biopic about his life, entitled “Koch,” which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art.

Koch has been credited with pulling the city out of fiscal turmoil in the late 1970s and is often remembered for many of his acerbic witticisms.

Former City Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., who led the legislative body for part of Koch’s term, recalled Koch’s famous saying: “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

The outspoken lawmaker was fond of the limelight, and eventually wrote a best-selling autobiography that was adapted into a Broadway Musical.

He later was a judge on “The People’s Court” and gave out much-coveted political endorsements.

Koch was born in 1924 to a Bronx Jewish family and attended City College before earning a law degree from New York University.

He got his political start as a community organizer in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, later became a city councilman and served as a U.S. Congressman.

While the late mayor was praised for getting the city’s finances in order, he also presided over a dark and corrupt period in Queens.

It was during Koch’s tenure that former Borough President Donald Manes committed suicide after allegations of graft and kickbacks that flowed in and out of Borough Hall.

His tenure was also marred by racial tensions, an increase in AIDS and HIV, homelessness and a high crime rate, according to Reuters.

But Friday the borough’s elected remembered Koch fondly, most focusing on his congenial nature. Koch once quipped that he wanted to be “mayor for life.”

“Mayor Ed Koch was a proud public servant and a true champion for the people of New York. With fierce determination and leadership, he guided our city through one of the most difficult times in our history, and we emerged stronger because of it,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights).

Later in life, Koch was a regular fixture on political talk shows, wrote books and, as an avid movie critic, could often be seen at various theaters around the city.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) remembered what Koch would constantly ask the people of the city.

“He was a quintessential New Yorker and a larger than life figure in New York politics. He was a great cheerleader for New York, and never stopped professing his love for our great city,” she said. “Growing up in Queens while he was mayor, I remember him constantly asking New Yorkers ‘How’m I doing?’”

Vallone’s son, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) was a fierce critic of renaming the Queensborough Bridge after the former mayor, though he said it had nothing to do with Koch’s tenure at the helm of the city.

“I’ve always said the Queensborough Bridge was not about Ed Koch, it was about the people of Queens,” said the councilman, who warmly recalled many evenings with Koch at the Vallone family dinner table in the 1980s. “And I’ve always said he deserves a fitting tribute.”

Vallone suggested renaming Gracie Mansion or the Municipal building in lower Manhattan after Koch.

Funeral services were scheduled for Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

Reach reported Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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