I’m a 36 year old New Yorker and the first politician I remember was Ed Koch. Koch was the impish bald guy with the thick New York accent who was everywhere. For those not from New York you may not remember him. He was a three term mayor of New York City from 1978 – 1990. Last week it was announced that the Queensboro Bridge the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge
He presided over some of the darkest times in the city. His city was covered in grafitti, ravaged first by heroin, then crack, had race problems, vigilante issues (Bernie Goetz), welfare hotels, homelessness and on and on. It was grittier city. A city more in tune with Taxi Driver than Sex in the City. A city that was not for the faint of heart or the weak. It was the ‘drop dead’ New York.
With that as the backdrop what I remember about Koch was his optimism. His slogan “How’m I doin’?” resonated with people. He felt like one of us and just spoke his mind. He gave the city a small town feel, he was a knowable mayor. Koch was your pal, Koch made gave you sense he was saying “Yes, I know New York City is fucked up, but it will get better and I right there with you”. He was New York’s consumate cheerleader.
The other thing about Koch was that he seemed to be everywhere. Everywhere you turned he was on TV, doing morning shows, making a fool of himself. This gave the city a little mascot, when you saw Koch out there you thought “Hey, that’s our guy! He’s got New York’s back” New Yorkers liked that about him. Oh sure the city was shitty, but he had pride and through him, we had pride. He made it ok to be from New York again.
We needed that at the time. New York City before Koch was a place to be embarrassed about. People would say “Oh my God, you live in New York!? Why? Get outta there!” Koch helped us say, yeah “I’m from New York, fucking City!” He resided over the city being cool again. Punk, disco, hip hop were maturing during Koch’s reign. The SoHo we know today grew under Koch. The foundations of what New York would become were laid under Koch.
Whether he had a direct influence on all these changes are unknown. I don’t have an understanding of his policies. What I remember is the feeling. Koch gave us hope in an era of total hopelessness.
What do you remember about Koch?