A mayor of the people, Ed Koch will be greatly missed

By Kenneth Kowald

Walking on the Brooklyn Bridge, holding a peregrine falcon.

Before I proceed with thoughts of former Mayor Ed Koch, there are things we cannot forget, lest we fall into decline again in the greatest city in the world.

Those old enough to remember the mid-l970s will remember these: The city came close to bankruptcy. There was a blackout in the summer of 1977. There were riots. Graffiti and urban decay seemed to be everywhere. Abandoned buildings seemed to be everywhere. Parks were being neglected. Times Square and its vicinity were not a crossroads of the world you wanted to stroll through.

Into this mess came a brash U.S. representative, a terror to the Democratic “bosses.” He was blunt. He was funny. He was smart. He was contradictory. You cheered him or you booed him, but no one thought he gave much of a thought to anything except the city he loved.

And to himself, of course, and his legacy.

He did a good job in housing for those in need. He did a good job about making our parks better. Elaine and I can attest to the progress in Forest Park. We lived on Park Lane South for decades and saw neglect turn to renaissance in many instances.

He did much for health, but his stance on Sydenham Hospital and the AIDS pandemic left a good deal to be desired. His stance on race relations was the subject of much controversy, even though he assembled the most diverse team of deputies and commissioners in the history of City Hall.

His third term was tinged with corruption, but he was not part of it. Perhaps some of it was due to not watching carefully enough. Donald Manes, then the Queens borough president, committed suicide because of one of those scandals.

Take him all in all, I think he was a good mayor and, perhaps, even as great as I am sure he thought he was.

All who lived during his time have memories of him. Perhaps they will share them in comments on the TimesLedger Newspapers website. I have asked five friends to do so and I will give you their responses in the comments section.

Remembering the walk on the Brooklyn Bridge: A transit strike started April 1, 1980. Day after day, Koch was out on the bridge cheering up people walking across it. It helped to have such a guy on your side.

Remembering the peregrine falcon: Cornell University started a program to return peregrine falcons to New York City. Nests were set up on bridges and on high buildings. One of those nests was in the tower of 4 Irving Place, the landmark headquarters of Con Edison.

On June 30, 1981, Cornell and Con Ed came with falcons to City Hall Park to publicize the effort. Koch bravely put on a huge leather glove and held one of the peregrine falcons. His facial expressions were wonderful: awe, a bit of fright, a bit of disbelief. Priceless.

The peregrine falcons have returned in strength. Under Koch, our greatest cheerleader, the city of New York returned in strength.

Did he contradict himself? Of course. He was large. He contained multitudes.

Thank you, Edward Irving Koch.

More from Around New York