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Ed Koch mayor who became a. NYC symbol dies

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Ed Koch's favorite moment as mayor of New York City, fittingly, involved yelling.

Suddenly inspired to do something brash about the rare transit strike that crippled the city in 1980, he strode down to the Brooklyn Bridge to encourage commuters who were forced to walk to work instead of jumping aboard subway trains and buses.

"I began to yell, 'Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We're not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!' And people began to applaud," the famously combative, acid-tongued politician recalled at a 2012 forum.

His success in rallying New Yorkers in the face of the strike was, he said, his biggest personal achievement as mayor. And it was a display that was quintessentially Koch, who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during a three-term City Hall run in which he embodied New York chutzpah for the rest of the world.

Koch died at 2 a.m. Friday from congestive heart failure, spokesman George Arzt said. He was 88. The funeral will be Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

Koch was admitted Monday to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital with shortness of breath, and was moved to intensive care Thursday for closer monitoring of the fluid in his lungs and legs. He had been released two days earlier after being treated for water in his lungs and legs. He had initially been admitted Jan. 19.

After leaving City Hall in January 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.

Former Mayor David Dinkins, who succeeded Koch, called him "a feisty guy who would tell you what he thinks."

"Ed was a guy to whom I could turn if I wanted a straight answer," he said.

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."

The mayor dismissed his critics as "wackos," waged verbal war with Donald Trump and fellow former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.

When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Democrat Koch crossed party lines to support him and spoke at the GOP convention. He also endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election efforts at a time when Bloomberg was a Republican. Koch described himself as "a liberal with sanity."

Bloomberg said the city "lost an irrepressible icon" and called Koch its "most charismatic cheerleader."

Under his watch from 1978-89, the city climbed out of its financial crisis 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.

Koch was a champion of gay rights, taking on the Catholic Church and scores of political leaders.

Koch was fast-talking, opinionated and sometimes rude, becoming the face and sound of New York to those living outside the city. He became a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and playing himself in movies including "The Muppets Take Manhattan" and "The First Wives Club" and hosting "Saturday Night Live."

After leaving office, he continued to offer his opinions as a political pundit, movie reviewer, food critic and judge on "The People's Court."

Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924, the second of three children of Polish immigrants. During the Depression the family lived in Newark, N.J.

The future mayor worked his way through school, checking hats, working behind a delicatessen counter and selling shoes. He attended City College and served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II, earning his sergeant stripes.

He received a law degree from New York University in 1948 and began practicing law in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Koch was elected to the City Council and then to Congress, serving from 1969-77.



Published in The Daily Journal on Feb. 2, 2013
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