Main | Friday, February 01, 2013

Ed Koch Dies At Age 88

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch died this morning at the age of 88.
As mayor from 1978 to 1989, the forceful, quick-witted Koch, with his trademark phrase "How'm I Doing?," was a polarizing figure and the city's constant promoter. Koch died at about 2 a.m. (0700 GMT) at New York-Presbyterian hospital, the spokesman for Koch said. Koch was credited with lifting New York from crushing economic crises to a level of prosperity that was the envy of other U.S. cities. Under his leadership, the city regained its fiscal footing and undertook a building renaissance. But his three terms in office were also marked by racial tensions, corruption among many of his political cronies, the rise in AIDS and HIV, homelessness and a high crime rate. In 1989, he lost the Democratic nomination for what would have been a record fourth term as mayor.
Throughout his life Koch refused to acknowledge his gayness.  Four years ago he spoke to the New York Times about being asked.
“I do not want to add to the acceptability of asking every candidate, ‘Are you straight or gay or lesbian?’ and make it a legitimate question, so I don’t submit to that question. I don’t care if people think I’m gay because I don’t answer it. I’m flattered that at 84 people are interested in my sex life — and, it’s quite limited.”
During his tenure as mayor, Koch was especially despised by AIDS activists, who accused him of slowing the reaction to the epidemic out of fear of being outed himself. None were more disdainful of Koch than Larry Kramer.
A few years after he left Gracie Mansion, Ed Koch ran into gay-rights activist and playwright Larry Kramer in the lobby of their apartment building on Washington Square. Mr. Kramer had famously been a harsh critic of what he believed was Mr. Koch’s slow response to the AIDS crisis, satirizing him as closeted and craven in his 1985 play The Normal Heart, about the syndrome then baffling doctors, and confronting the indifference of public health officials like those in Mr. Koch’s administration. Hundreds of New Yorkers dead or dying from a terrifying new disease and the mayor couldn’t give less than a damn, according to Mr. Kramer. For Mr. Koch, though, it was bygones.  “He was trying to pet my dog Molly and he started to tell me how beautiful it was,” Mr. Kramer once told The New Yorker of the incident, recounted in N.Y.U. Polytechnic historian Jonathan Soffer’s Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City. “I yanked her away so hard she yelped, and I said, ‘Molly, you can’t talk to him. That is the man who killed all of Daddy’s friends.’
Koch was a regular target of ACT UP.
Koch, a documentary about his life, debuted this week.

NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the favorite to win this year's mayoral campaign, this morning issued a statement on Koch's death.  Via press release:
"All of New York City is in mourning today as we say goodbye to a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend.  Ed Koch dedicated his life to the five boroughs. He loved this city fiercely and it loved him back. He saved us from the brink of bankruptcy, raised our spirits, and restored our city’s reputation in the world. He rebuilt our crumbling infrastructure, adding more than 150,000 units of affordable housing. And after leaving office he continued to make New York a better place, inspiring us through his writing, his activism, and his commitment to change. But he was more than just the sum total of his accomplishments. Mayor Koch was larger than life. He stood taller than the bridge that bears his name. His sense of humor and tenacious spirit personified this town. Ed Koch was New York."

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