Koch, mayor who became symbol of NY, dies
APNEW YORK --- Former Mayor Ed Koch, the combative, acid-tongued politician who rescued New York City from near-financial ruin during a three-term City Hall run in which he embodied the city's chutzpah for the rest of the world, died Friday. He was 88.
February 2, 2013, 12:05 am TWN
Koch died at 2 a.m. from congestive heart failure, spokesman George Arzt said. After leaving the top job in America's largest city in 1990, Koch battled assorted health problems and heart disease.
The larger-than-life Koch, who breezed through the streets of New York flashing his signature thumbs-up sign, won a national reputation with his feisty style. “How'm I doing?” was his trademark question to constituents, although the answer mattered little to Koch. The mayor always thought he was doing wonderfully.
Bald and bombastic, paunchy and pretentious, the city's 105th mayor was quick with a friendly quip and equally fast with a cutting remark for his political enemies.
“You punch me, I punch back,” Koch once memorably observed. “I do not believe it's good for one's self-respect to be a punching bag.”
Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement Friday that although they disagreed on many things, Koch “was never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said. He fought for what he believed. May he rest in peace.”
The mayor dismissed his critics as “wackos,” waged verbal war with developer Donald Trump (“piggy”) and mayoral successor Rudolph Giuliani (“nasty man”), lambasted civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.
“I'm not the type to get ulcers,” he wrote in “Mayor,” his autobiography. “I give them.”
When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Koch, a Democrat, crossed party lines to support him and spoke at the Republican convention. He also endorsed current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election efforts at a time when Bloomberg was a Republican. Koch described himself as “a liberal with sanity.”
In a statement Friday, Bloomberg said the city “lost an irrepressible icon” and called Koch its “most charismatic cheerleader.”
Koch was also an outspoken supporter of Israel, willing to criticize anyone, including President Barack Obama, over decisions Koch thought could indicate any wavering of support for that nation.
In a WLIW television program “The Jews of New York,” Koch spoke of his attachment to his faith.
“Jews have always thought that having someone elevated with his head above the grass was not good for the Jews. I never felt that way,” he said. “I believe that you have to stand up.”
Under his watch from 1978-89, the city climbed out of near-financial ruin thanks to Koch's tough fiscal policies and razor-sharp budget cuts, and subway service improved enormously. But homelessness and AIDS soared through the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall's responses were too little, too late.