Ed Koch Dead at 88

Ed Koch has died at age 88 and after all his changes hardly anyone will remember when he was a liberal congressman from the Silk Stocking District in Manhattan's Upper East Side, but I have a particular reason to recall it.

In the late 1960's Koch gained a lot of prominence as an opponent of the Vietnam War. Because my high school, Regis, was in his district, he came to speak at our school one day. I think it was probably the spring of 1970, and many of us were demonstrating and organizing against the war so we were pretty excited about hearing him speak.

From conversations I've had since his death I know that I was not the only member of the audience to be bitterly disappointed with his speech. It's over forty years ago, but I remember clearly that literally the only thing he objected to about the war was the negative impact it had on the Americans who were being sent to die there. Nothing about American imperialism, nothing about killing the Vietnamese, nothing about My Lai, although Seymour Hersh had broken the story the previous November. 

No, In Koch's view the biggest problem, the only problem he chose to talk about, was that the war was bad because it was bad for Americans. This is not to say that the effect of the war on Americans was irrelevant, but it was not by any means the most important reason to oppose the war.

As you know, Koch went on to follow his Silk Stocking District predecessor, John Lindsay, to the mayorship. Many people will remember his move to the Right, his involvement with corrupt officials, or his failure to respond to the AIDS crisis, but what will always stick in my mind is how he could be wrong about being right about Vietnam. 


17 thoughts on “Ed Koch Dead at 88

  1. He was also in favor of the Iraq war.  And some say died in the closet, for what that’s worth.  Am I correct in thinking he was responsible for cleaning up Times Square?  Until recently he had a segment on Bloomberg radio, and his death came two days after the documentary about the former mayor, “Koch,” premiered in New York.

    -“I’m not the type to get ulcers. I give them.”

    -“You punch me, I punch back. I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”

    – “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

    – “Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life.” On the prospect of living in Albany, during his failed 1982 race for governor.

    – “Whether I am straight or gay or bisexual is nobody’s business but mine.”

    – “It’s not soaring, beautiful, handsome, like the George Washington or the Verrazano. It’s rugged, it’s hard working – and that’s me.” On the 59th Street Bridge being renamed for him in 2011.

    – “I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone. This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.” After purchasing a burial plot in Manhattan’s Trinity Cemetery in 2008.  

  2. taking personal experience and using latest headline to expand the conversation. I havent seen any obits before this that discussed his position on Vietnam.

    Manufacturing Consent examined how elite opinion that was in opposition to the war accepted most of the hawks’ assumptions. Chompsky tracked I think NYTimes’ Anthony Lewis’ columns to show that even the most out-there-lefty-dove opinion shared the hawks’ belief in our good intentions and right to essentially destroy a country to save it. The doves allowed into the mainstream conversation were like Koch wrong about being right, as you so aptly put it.

    And this week we had two Vietnam vets having the same conversation. McCain tried to pin Hagel down that Chuck was wrong about being right– the surge worked, admit it, dont try to expand the conversation to the larger disaster of the Iraq quagmire.

    “you were wrong about being right”

    “Nope I was right about being wrong”

    2013 and Vietnam outlives ed Koch.  

  3. Back in the 1990s I was working on low-budget movies. I did one called ‘Somewhere in the City’, I still have the t-shirt.  It starred Sandra Bernhardt and Bai Ling.

    The story is about the odd characters that live in one apartment building.

    In the basement is the handsome (the actor is a soap-opera star) upper-middle class communist revolutionary, the rich kid rebelling against his parent’s money.  He sends out his henchmen to go ‘kidnap the mayor’.  Well, they come back with Ed Koch.

    So we had a day’s shoot with Ed Koch.  He was a great sport.  He let us tie him to an office chair and put a gag in his mouth.  The scene has him in the chair with his back to the camera.  The ‘Che’ wannabe comes in, his henchmen are all excited, they turn the chair around and it’s … Ed Koch!  They take off his gag and he shouts, “I’m not the mayor any more, you idiots!”  He was hilarious!

    I have always had a soft-spot for Mayor Koch, I can still remember seeing him walking down the street in the early 1980s, someone shouted “Mister Mayor!”  He immediately turned and shouted his famous phrase, “How’m I Doin’?”  He was such a blast.

  4. I was sorry to hear of the passing of Mayor Koch. Even though you folks think of me as a “radical Conservative”, I believe I am a merely a Constitutionalist and I always found Ed Koch to be a honest, self-made, independent politician. An Honest New York Politician (a truly rare breed), Ed Koch was one-in-a-million, on second thought make that one-in-a-billion – he said what he believed and acted on his beliefs without fear of the repercussions.

    Never labeled Conervative, Moderate, Liberal, Left-Wing or Right-Wing – Ed Koch was ED KOCH, and greatly respected for his independence and sincerity.

    During my years in Philadelphia, I always enjoyed tuning into the New York radio stations (WABC and earlier WNBC) where Koch had weekly gigs. He was a wonderful, uplifting, humorous and most importantly honest fellow. New York City has lost one of its greatest heroes – and I am sure he will be missed by all the REAL NEW YORKERS.

    Interesting to see that all of the GMD Vermont Loyalist suddenly confess to having “shallow Vermont roots” revealing themselves as Big Apple transplants – even more interesting to see that they have so little respect for a truly legendary New Yorker.  

    So could all of you “Radical Left-Wingers” show at least a little respect for GREAT AMERICAN, ED KOCH!

    Today Heaven is a Little Brighter with Ed Koch back home!


  5. From David France (How to Survive a Plague) in the Daily Intelligencer, via Towleroad:

    As has been chronicled repeatedly, Koch stood silent through years of headlines, obituaries, and deaths. He refused meetings with community members, Larry Kramer chief among them. Administratively, he created inter-departmental committees and appointed liaisons, but he gave them neither power nor resources to do anything real. By January 1984, in the epicenter of a ballooning epidemic when tens of thousands of New Yorkers were infected and 864 were already gone, Koch’s New York had spent a total of $24,500 in response.

    […] He could have promoted risk reduction and community education. This is what was done in San Francisco, where Dianne Feinstein was mayor. The money and the bully-pulpit worked. The epidemic there, while devastating, was nothing like it became in New York.

    Koch’s failure in AIDS should be recalled as the single-most significant aspect of his public life. The memories of all we’ve lost deserve no less.


    In a Time of Universal Deceit, TELLING the TRUTH Is a Revolutionary Act. ~ George Orwell  

  6. Giuliani was the mayor that turned NYC from an open Liberal beacon of freedom into a fascist police state, almost overnight.

    Before Ghouliani you could ask a policeman to light your joint, after Ghouliani, the police would attack you, beat you down, arrest you, ‘lose’ you paperwork for three or four days, then release you without any charges ever having been filed, but you never got back anything you had on you, and since there was no paperwork, there was no way to get the stuff back that they stole from you.

    Ghouliani was the reason I moved out of NYC, I didn’t like living in a fascist police state where cops can rummage through your pockets whenever they want and take anything they find, and go through your backpack without cause or warrant and take what ever they want and there is NOTHING you can do to stop them.

  7. I had a friend in New York City (funny, she was a Vermonter who moved down there for lawyer work) who told me when I visited sometime in the 90s that the Mayor had “really cleaned the ‘riff-raff’ off the streets.”  I said something like:  “Oh yeah?  Well, I guess that’s why you don’t want me to wear my Vermont clothes.”  Yeah, Rudy was some prick.

  8. Koch was far from a saint, but Giuliani was downright facistic.

    He “cleaned-up” the city alright…by sweeping homeless people away and making it impossible for anyone “without means” to so much as find a spot to sit down.

    I remember being snow-bound in Grand Central Station one horrendous Valentines Day after Giuliani had removed all benches from the waiting area.  Hundreds and hundreds of people tried to find a spot to rest by leaning on pillars or slumping on the floor.

    It was nuts.

    New York is clean and relatively crime-free now; but at what a cost to humanity and local character! Few of the millions of poorer people who service the needs of the city can afford to live there any more.

  9. He criminalized selling artwork on the streets, too.  Many artists lost their life’s work when the NYPD destroyed it all in their crackdown on street vending artists. It seems the Soho galleries requested this happen because getting rid of cheap artists would somehow convince more people to buy $50K art from their shops…

    And 9/11?  Ghouliani strust around saying he’s America’s Mayor because he was so brave, but the image seared into my skull is Ghouliani running away like a little girl as the towers collapsed way, way off in the background.  Now everyone ran like a little girl, but only he turned it into a huge lie and ran for president on that lie.

    My wife’s brother worked on the #7 Pile for the first two days, he lived right up on Thompson St.

    And I shot a whole roll of film (36 images) of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues just the year before he gave it to Disney and they destroyed it.

  10. From Political Animal with weekend blogger Kathleen Geier at the keyboard:

    But the grotesquely sentimentalized portrayals of Koch that have been clogging the internets this weekend – typified by this New York Times quasi-hagiography – have put me off my feed, and I felt like I should say something.

    I grew up in New York metropolitan area and I lived in New York City for many years. I followed New York City politics even before I moved there. Ed Koch, to me, symbolized a lot of the things that were wrong with New York. […]

    But Ed Koch’s most devastating failure was being AWOL during the epic tragedy that was the AIDS crisis. The Nation’s Richard Kim has written a brilliant piece that ties Koch’s failure to his (presumed) status as a closeted gay man.

    There are other links in the story, but somehow Geier missed the one to Richard Kim’s story, here.


    In a Time of Universal Deceit, TELLING the TRUTH Is a Revolutionary Act. ~ George Orwell  

  11. But you will find few readers here who share your enthusiasm for Mayor Koch.

    Don’t assume so much Mr. Paige; only Petey and Comrade Rutherford have said that they once lived in NYC.   I myself have never lived there.

    And your somewhat snide reference to them as  having “shallow Vermont roots” betrays simple ignorance on your part.

    An accident of birth does not make anyone more deeply committed to a place than someone who chooses to leave behind the safety of life in another place to set down strong new roots in a place of his or her own choosing.  

    Yours is the attitude of the small-minded and uncurious; not qualities that contributed to making the U.S. a great country or Vermont, a quality place to live.

  12. to see any actual disrespect paid to the man by anyone, it remains unclear why an honest discussion could be considered in the most negative light possible as “dancing on a Dead-mans grave”.

    Seems a little over the top imo. Nothing ‘sudden’ about GMDers you mentioned, have never hid their roots, nor should it matter. I was born in & have lived all over VT off & on my entire life, roots on both sides go back many generations. I do recall during the development boom in the ’70s my parents remarking many out-of-staters who moved here but were opposed to the development loved & respected VT much more than many Vermonters.

  13. On the other hand, it might be a bit of a stretch to call him an honest politician.

    He started out as a reformer but once he got into office he made his peace with the clubhouses pretty quickly. In addition, his last term was tagged with the Parking Violations Bureau scandal. I’m not prepared to say he was entirely blameless or innocent of any knowledge of what was going on.

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