BY LUIS GRONDA
Queens officials have joined the chorus of voices remembering the legacy of former Mayor Ed Koch, who died last week at the age of 88 due to congestive heart failure.
Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924 to Polish immigrant parents Louis and Joyce Silpe Koch. After a military career where he earned three medals, including the Combat Infantry Badge, Koch returned to New York, attending New York University Law School. He began his pursuit for public office in 1962, losing out on a race for the State Assembly.
After he won seats in the City Council and the U.S. House of Representatives, Koch joined a crowded field of mayoral candidates in 1977, narrowly defeating Mario Cuomo for what became his most notable position.
While his original run for mayor became marred with ugly politics between Koch and Cuomo, Cuomo’s son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said that Koch set the stage for the City’s resurgence.
“No New Yorker has – or likely ever will – voice their love for New York City in such a passionate and outspoken manner than Ed Koch,” the younger Cuomo said. “New York City would not be the place it is today without Ed Koch’s leadership over three terms at City Hall. Mr. Mayor was never one to shy away from taking a stand that he believed was right, no matter what the polls said or what was politically correct.”
During his three terms as mayor, Koch was known for the policies that changed and improved the City after its financial crisis. He was also outspoken and unafraid to speak his mind if he had something to say. Koch would often greet residents while riding the subway and ask them “How’m I doin’?” – the question he was most known for asking his constituents.
In his first term, he was credited with turning around the City’s financial crisis that he inherited from the Beame administration and saw its deficit turn into a surplus while he was in office. He continued the City’s financial prosperity into his second term as well as building thousands of affordable housing units in low-income neighborhoods through out the City.
After his third term finished, Koch ran for another term as mayor but would lose to David Dinkins, who became New York City’s first African-American Mayor.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg called Koch a “tireless, fearless and guileless civic crusader.”
“He was a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend,” Bloomberg said. “Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the City out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback.”
Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. credited Koch for his commitment to the City he oversaw.
“He was married to this City, and loved it with a passion and devotion from beginning to end,” Vallone said. “Perhaps one of the greatest tributes you could say about any person is that when you mention his name, a smile comes to your face, and that is how I will always remember my dear friend, Ed Koch.”
In his years after being mayor, Koch fell into the background in terms of his political career, but still remained in the public eye.
While he ran for public office as a Democrat, Koch never shied away from endorsing Republicans. In 2011, Koch endorsed Bob Turner in his run for Congress against Assemblyman David Weprin in the special election caused by Anthony Weiner’s resignation.
Turner praised Koch for his dedication to what he felt was the best interest of New Yorkers.
“This honesty and bravado led to the beginning of our unique and cherished friendship,” Turner said. “I am proud to have called him my friend.”
In addition to his political contributions, in the years after he left office, Koch became a newspaper columnist, a TV commentator and even worked as a judge on the TV show “The People’s Court” in the 1990s. A lover of movies, Koch frequently reviewed them. Many of his reviews were featured in the Queens Tribune.
In recognition of his public service, the City announced in December 2010 it would rename the Queensboro Bridge, which connects Long Island City to Manhattan, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. This past week, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) proposed renaming Koch’s favorite subway station at East 77th Street and Lexington Avenue to the Mayor Ed Koch Subway Station.
“When I remember Ed Koch, I remember him here at the 77th Street 6-train stop reaching out to people and getting them to respond to him, showing us what a great leader does to make sure he is hearing from the people he represents,” Maloney said. “He called [the stop] his ‘lucky corner.’”
Reach Reporter Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127 or at email@example.com.