With Ed Koch's passing on Friday and memorial scheduled for today, you would be hard-pressed not to find one of the 7,000 heavy-handed tributes to the controversial mayor. People loved him, people hated him, people thought he was a homo, people thought he was an asshole who ignored the burgeoning AIDS crisis in the city (because he was hiding that he was a homo). People thought he helped rip the city apart and people thought he helped to stitch the city back together after the disastrous economic conditions of the 1970's.
I'm not here to wrestle with those facts. What I will remember Ed Koch for was his legacy as snarky, tough talking mayor who spoke his mind no matter what. He reportedly loved telling people off and so I have to believe that as he was turning this city around and paving the way for what New York is today, he was setting the tenor for what it meant to act like a New Yorker: a tough as nails, slightly self-obsessed, clownish snarky son-of-a-bitch who loved his city (kinda like us here at FIPS). Yet, he was strangely down to Earth, living in a rent-stabilized one bedroom and constantly asking his constituents, "How'm I doing?"
Being a child of the Tri-state area born the year he took office, my earliest memories of New York were of Ed Koch. To me NYC and Ed Koch were one and the same. Every time I saw New York on the news, he wasn't far behind with one of his Blue-Room press conferences yelling at the press about something. Or what Tri-state area child didn't burst with delight when the Mayor of New York appeared for a cameo in the Muppets Take Manhattan. When asked by the Muppets if he'd seen Kermit his famous line was, "No, but if he can balance the budget, I'll hire him!" He was terse, he was brash and never minded poking fun at himself. Koch was the first mayor to appear on SNL. Take a look:
Born in the Bronx and then settling as young boy with his family here in Brooklyn, right off of Ocean Parkway, I have to believe his Brooklyn upbringing galvanized his demeanor. The Reverend Calvin O. Butts III a Baptist Minister from Harlem who often scuffled with Koch told the New York Times, “If you’ve got to have a mayor for New York City, you need a guy like Ed Koch because he’s a rough-and-tumble kind of guy who speaks up and fights back.”
On Friday the Times captured a great moment that summed it up:
'I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers,' the mayor — eyebrows devilishly up, grinning wickedly at his own wit — enlightened the reporters at his $475 rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village on Inauguration Day in 1978. 'Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.'
After his three terms as mayor were up, Koch went back to his rent stabilized apartment, practiced law and found his way into the spotlight whenever he could. He was in a Snapple commercial in 1993 and he was on the People's Court.
He made cameos on "Spin City" and "Sex in the City." Later, as the LA Times reports, he even considered himself a movie critic, sounding off on movies like Bridesmaids saying "When a woman defecates in a sink in a bathroom because all of the women now have food poisoning, it's a little much."
Bottomline, Koch was a curmudgeon, he was crass and he was, at times, very funny. And even though the city he left on Friday was much less gritty than the city he led, to me, NYC will in some part always be Ed Koch's snarky town.