Ed Koch, mayor of New York City from 1978-1989, died this morning of heart failure. He was the mayor of the New York City of my youth and young adulthood.
What an era that was—in City Hall and in the city itself. It was the period that took us from the desperate and debt-ridden late seventies through the go-go, Yuppie eighties. It was the period that saw the rise of graffiti, homelessness, crack, hip hop, Wall Street, punk rock, the AIDs crisis and much more.
Feisty, funny and full of chutzpah, he seemed, in a sense, to personify the city. He lived across the street from my grandmother on Fifth Avenue and 8th Street in Manhattan and seemed accessible and real. For me, he was the mayor across the street, when he wasn’t in Gracie Mansion. How’m I doing? was his iconic question and it exemplified his in-your-face way of being the mayor.
His approach to race relations was highly problematic and his refusal to admit his own homosexuality was certainly a betrayal to the city’s gay community.
His term spanned my out-of-town college years and the years when I set out on my own in the city of my birth. I lived in Harlem, Brooklyn Heights, the Upper West Side and Lower East Side (during the Tompkins Square Park riots) during that time. I remember the building of the Twin Towers and the nearby Art on the Beach area that was the landfill that is now Battery Park City and the 35 cent token. Soho was still an art center, Tribeca was just coming into being, the East Village had a boom and then a bust, CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City and Area were the places to be.
It was a different city. A grittier more dangerous place to live but also a vital and amazingly creative environment in which to come of age.
Indeed, Ed Koch will remembered by those of us who grew up during that time as a mayor as funny, flawed and complex and the city itself.
I just learned that Bronx-born Koch, lived in Brooklyn for a time. Here from a statement by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz: “Mayor Koch lived with his family in Brooklyn as a young man, and I have no doubt it’s where he got the Brooklyn attitude, swagger and “chutzpah” that made him such a character and helped him navigate New York City through some of its most challenging times. The Brooklyn flag over Borough Hall will be lowered in remembrance of this one-of-a-kind New York icon, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues.”