Published February 01, 2013
I knew Ed Koch for almost half a century. I first met him as a boy in Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park with my father and later knew him in campaigns, government and New York civic life.
He was a uniquely irrepressible and larger than life mayor who could enrage his opponents with his rapier wit and candid reactions and then calm and reassure a concerned citizenry with his hopeful cheerleading for a then embattled city.
A veteran of World War II and a former Congressman he navigated the changing politics of New York for 50 years with unpredictable ease.
His legacy is as complex and contradictory as he was.
He helped turn around a dying city and pay back New York's debt from its near bankruptcy in the early 70s. As he ended his third term, crime was on the rise, race relations were for the worse and the budget was out of control.
His greatest accomplishment was bringing stability and optimism to the city's business and real estate community to stem the exodus that was destroying New York's future. He helped revive the spirit and soul of a great city.
He made us laugh in New York and that was a great thing -- especially when things looked bleak. He was a tireless, 24/7 mayor who loved New York and lived to serve its people .
In 1989 I remember seeing him at a Democratic unity breakfast a day or so after he was defeated in a primary by the candidate I helped elect, my dear friend, David Dinkins, the City's first African American mayor.
I said to him "Mr. Mayo -- -may I thank you for helping our city?" He laughed quietly and then broke out into his characteristic over the top Ed Koch and mock rebuked me as he laid his hand on my shoulder: "Yes, you may thank me but I didn't hear that from you yesterday. I'm here and I'm here to help New York."
He kept his promise. And for another two decades he continued as a constant voice in our country supporting Republicans and Democrats in equal measure. Idolized by many and disliked by some, all who knew him knew that he lived to serve the people of New York City and country he loved.
In our era of double-talking politicians he was different. Even those who disagreed with him knew that he had the rarest of qualities -- actually telling you what he was thinking. He used to ask crowds "How am I doin'?" New Yorkers usually roared with approval. So will history.