Edward Irving Koch (/kɒtʃ/ KOTCH; December 12, 1924 – February 1, 2013) was an American lawyer, politician, political commentator, movie critic and reality television arbitrator. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 and three terms as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989.
Koch was a lifelong Democrat who described himself as a "liberal with sanity". The author of an ambitious public housing renewal program in his later years as mayor, he began by cutting spending and taxes and cutting 7,000 from the city payroll. As a congressman and after his terms as mayor he was a fervent supporter of the State of Israel. He crossed party lines to endorse Rudy Giuliani for mayor in 1993, Michael Bloomberg in 2001, and President George W. Bush in 2004.
A popular figure, he rode the New York City Subway and stood at street corners greeting passersby with the slogan "How'm I doin'?" His private life was enigmatic, with speculation about his sexuality, which he rebuffed, calling it a private matter: he had no children, and refused to publicly discuss his romantic relationships, but declared that he was heterosexual after his retirement.
He won re-election in 1981 with 75 percent, the first New York City mayor to win endorsement on both the Democratic and Republican party tickets. He won his second re-election with 78 percent of the vote. His third term was fraught with scandal regarding political associates, although it never touched him personally, and with racial tensions, including the murder of Yusuf Hawkins a month before a fourth primary, which he lost in a close race to New York City's first black mayor, David Dinkins.
Koch in 1988
|105th Mayor of New York City|
January 1, 1978 – December 31, 1989
|Preceded by||Abraham Beame|
|Succeeded by||David Dinkins|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 18th district
January 3, 1973 – December 31, 1977
|Preceded by||Charles Rangel|
|Succeeded by||Bill Green|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th district
January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1973
|Preceded by||Theodore Kupferman|
|Succeeded by||John Murphy|
|Member of the New York City Council from the 2nd district|
January 1, 1967 – January 3, 1969
|Preceded by||Woodward Kingman|
|Succeeded by||Carol Greitzer|
|Born||Edward Irving Koch
December 12, 1924
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||February 1, 2013 (aged 88)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Service/branchUnited States Army
|Years of service||1943–1946|
Unit104th Infantry Division
Koch was born in Crotona Park East section of The Bronx borough of New York City, the son of Yetta (or Joyce, née Silpe) and Louis (Leib) Koch, immigrants from Kozliv and Uścieczko in Eastern Galicia. He came from a family of Conservative Jews who resided in Newark, New Jersey, where his father worked at a theater. As a child, he worked as a hatcheck boy in a Newark dance hall. He graduated from South Side High School in Newark in 1941.
He was drafted into the United States Army in 1943, where he served as an infantryman with the 104th Infantry Division, landing in Cherbourg, France, in September 1944. He earned a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, a World War II Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for service in the European Theater of Operations. After V-E Day, because he could speak German, Koch was sent to Bavaria to help remove Nazi public officials from their jobs and find non-Nazis to take their place. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant in 1946.
Koch returned to New York City to attend City College of New York, graduating in 1945, and New York University School of Law, receiving his law degree in 1948. Koch was a sole practitioner from 1949 to 1964, and a partner with Koch, Lankenau, Schwartz & Kovner from 1965 to 1968. A Democrat, he became active in New York City politics as a reformer and opponent of Carmine DeSapio and Tammany Hall. In 1962 Koch ran for office for the first time, unsuccessfully opposing incumbent William Passannante, a DeSapio ally, for the Democratic nomination for the State Assembly.
In 1963, Koch defeated DeSapio for the position of Democratic Party leader for the district which included Greenwich Village, and Koch won again in a 1965 rematch. Koch served on the New York City Council from 1967 to 1969.
Koch was the Democratic U.S. Representative from New York's 17th congressional district from January 3, 1969, until January 3, 1973, when, after a redistricting, he represented New York's 18th congressional district until December 31, 1977, when he resigned to become Mayor of New York City.
Koch said he began his political career as "just a plain liberal", with positions including opposing the Vietnam War and marching in the South for civil rights. In April 1973, Koch coined the term "Watergate Seven" when, in response to U.S. Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.'s indicating that one of the men in Watergate scandal had been ordered in the spring of 1972 to keep certain senators and representatives under surveillance, posted a sign on the door of his office saying, 'These premises were surveilled by the Watergate Seven. Watch yourself'. At about this same time, Koch began his rightward shift towards being a "liberal with sanity" after reviewing the 1973 controversy around then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay's attempt to place a 3,000-person housing project in the middle of a middle-class community in Forest Hills, Queens. Congressman Koch met with residents of the community, most of whom were against the proposal. He was convinced by their arguments, and spoke out against the plan, shocking some of his liberal allies.
Koch was active in advocating for a greater U.S. role in advancing human rights, within the context of fighting a perceived threat of communism. He had particular influence in the foreign aid budget, as he sat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. In 1976, Koch proposed that the U.S. cut off military aid and supplies to the government of Uruguay which was under a dictatorship. In mid-July 1976, the CIA learned that two high-level Uruguayan intelligence officers had discussed a possible assassination attempt on Koch by Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), the Chilean secret police. The CIA did not regard these threats as credible until after the September 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C., by Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) agents coordinated by Operation Condor. After this assassination, Director of Central Intelligence George H.W. Bush informed Koch by phone of the threat. Koch subsequently asked both the CIA and the FBI for protection, but none was extended.
Koch briefly ran for Mayor in 1973, but garnered little support and dropped out before the Democratic primary. He threw his support to State Assemblyman Albert H. Blumenthal, who like Koch was Jewish, but Blumenthal's Mayoral bid was derailed by a scandal and ran third.
In 1977, Koch ran in the Democratic primary of the New York City mayoral election against incumbent Abe Beame, Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo, among others. Koch ran to the right of the other candidates, on a "law and order" platform. According to historian Jonathan Mahler, the New York City blackout of 1977 that happened in July, and the subsequent rioting, helped catapult Koch and his message of restoring public safety to front-runner status.
In 1981, he ran for re-election as mayor, running on both the Democratic and Republican Party lines; in November he won, defeating his main opponent, Unity Party candidate Frank J. Barbaro, with 75 percent of the vote.
In 1982, Koch ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York, losing the Democratic primary to Mario Cuomo, who was then lieutenant governor. Many say the deciding factor in Koch's loss was an interview with Playboy magazine in which he described the lifestyle of both suburbia and upstate New York as "sterile" and lamented the thought of having to live in "the small town" of Albany as governor. Koch's remarks are thought to have alienated many voters from outside New York City.
Koch often deviated from the conventional liberal line, strongly supporting the death penalty and taking a hard line on "quality of life" issues, such as giving police broader powers in dealing with the homeless and favoring (and signing) legislation banning the playing of radios on subways and buses. These positions prompted harsh criticism of him from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and many African-American leaders, particularly the Reverend Al Sharpton.
In 1985, Koch again ran for re-election, this time on the Democratic and Independent tickets; he defeated Liberal Party candidate Carol Bellamy, Republican candidate Diane McGrath, and Right to Life candidate Rabbi Lew Y. Levin, with 78 percent of the vote.  During the campaign, Koch came to visit the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, seeking his blessing and endorsement.
In 1986, Koch signed a lesbian and gay rights ordinance for the city after the City Council passed the measure (on March 20), following several failed attempts by that body to approve such legislation. Despite his overall pro-lesbian and pro-gay-rights stance, he nonetheless backed up the New York City Health Department's decision to shut down the city's gay bathhouses in 1985 in response to concerns over the spread of AIDS. The enactment of the measure the following year placed the city in a dilemma, as it apparently meant that the bathhouses would have to be re-opened because many heterosexual "sex clubs" – most notably Plato's Retreat – were in operation in the city at the time, and allowing them to remain open while keeping the bathhouses shuttered would have been a violation of the newly adopted anti-discrimination law. The Health Department, with Koch's approval, reacted by ordering the heterosexual clubs, including Plato's Retreat, to close as well.
Koch consistently demonstrated a fierce love for New York City, which some observers felt he carried to extremes on occasion: In 1984 he had gone on record as opposing the creation of a second telephone area code for the city, claiming that this would divide the city's population; and when the National Football League's New York Giants won Super Bowl XXI in January 1987, he refused to grant a permit for the team to hold their traditional victory parade in the city, quipping famously, "If they want a parade, let them parade in front of the oil drums in Moonachie" (the latter being a town in New Jersey adjacent to East Rutherford, site of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, where the Giants play their home games).
In his third term, Koch's popularity was shaken after a series of corruption scandals, touched off by the Donald Manes suicide and the PVB scandal, which revealed that he had acceded to the requests of political allies (most notably Queens Borough President Manes, Bronx Democratic Party official Stanley Friedman and Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Meade Esposito) to stack city agencies with patronage appointments. There were no allegations that Koch obtained any financial benefit from the corruption; however, the wave of scandals undermined Koch's prior claims that he ran a patronage-free municipal government. Michael Tager attributes the scandals not to Koch's failures but to the steadily declining power of the Democratic machine and the desperate efforts of its bosses to reverse the collapse.
Shortly afterward, Koch suffered a stroke in 1987. He recovered and was able to continue with his duties.
It has been said that race relations in Mayor Koch's last years were not good. For one, he became a controversial figure in the 1988 presidential campaign with his public criticism of Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson, who had surprised many political observers by winning key primaries in March and running even with the front runner, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. As the April New York primary approached, Koch reminded voters of Jackson's earlier anti-semitic statements, and said that Jews would be "crazy" to vote for Jackson. Koch endorsed Tennessee Senator Al Gore, who had run well in his native south, but hadn't won 20 percent in a northern state. As Koch's anti-Jackson rhetoric intensified, Gore seemed to shy away from Koch. On primary day, Gore finished a weak third place with 10 percent of the vote and dropped out of the race. Jackson ran ten points behind Dukakis, whose nomination became assured after his New York win.
In 1989, Koch ran for a fourth term as Mayor but lost the Democratic primary to Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, who went on to defeat Rudolph Giuliani in the general election. Koch's criticism of Jesse Jackson during the 1988 presidential race had angered many black voters and was cited as a major reason for his defeat.
In the years following his mayoralty, Koch became a partner in the law firm of Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn, and Berman LLP, (now Bryan Cave LLP) and became a commentator on politics, as well reviewing movies and restaurants, for newspapers, radio and television. He also became an adjunct professor at New York University (NYU) and was the judge on The People's Court for two years (1997–1999), following the retirement of Judge Joseph Wapner. In 1999, he was a visiting professor at Brandeis University. Koch regularly appeared on the lecture circuit, and had a highly rated local talk show on WABC radio. He also hosted his own movie review video show on the web called The Mayor at the Movies.
In 2004, together with his sister Pat (also Pauline) Koch Thaler, Koch wrote a children's book, Eddie, Harold's Little Brother; the book told the story of Koch's own childhood, when he tried unsuccessfully to emulate his older brother Harold's baseball talents, before realizing that he should instead focus on what he was already good at, which was telling stories and speaking in public.
On March 23, 2011, the New York City Council voted to rename the Queensboro Bridge as the "Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge" in honor of the former mayor. Later, city councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens) introduced legislation banning the naming of New York City property after people who are still alive. The legislation subsequently failed. In May 2011 Koch sat for a portrait by Dmitry Borshch which has been exhibited at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, DePaul University, Brecht Forum, CUNY Graduate Center and is included in the Catalog of American Portraits, maintained by the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.
In the summer of 2009, Koch began appearing in weekly movie review segments for a web video show called Mayor at the Movies. The former mayor was an avid moviegoer who often saw two or three movies every weekend. Although he was invited to private screenings, he preferred to see films with a public audience and was often approached by stunned moviegoers who were surprised to find him there. His reviews were regularly outspoken and wry, with his rating system consisting not of stars but of a "plus" (for a good film) or a "minus" for a bad one.
He had a particular passion for independent cinema as well as documentaries, although he enjoyed dramas and action films as well. In addition to being showcased on Mayor at the Movies, his film reviews were regularly featured on The Huffington Post and also in the New York newspaper The Villager. In addition to reviewing movies, the Mayor appeared in more than 60 Hollywood films and television shows as himself, including Sex and the City, Spin City, Saturday Night Live, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. A documentary about Koch's life, Koch, had its world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival on October 8, 2012, and was released theatrically on February 1, 2013 (coincidentally, the day of Koch's death).
After leaving office, Koch frequently endorsed prominent Republican candidates, including Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg for Mayor, Al D'Amato for U.S. Senate, Peter T. King for U.S. House, George Pataki for governor, and, in 2004, George W. Bush for President of the United States. Koch also endorsed Democrats, including Eliot Spitzer for governor in the 2006 election. He endorsed Bill Bradley for president in 2000.
Koch took back his endorsement of Spitzer in the aftermath of the governor's prostitution scandal. He said, "At the time the prostitution episode emerged, I commented that nothing could explain his behavior other than the fact that he had a screw loose in his head. Probably several."
Though Koch supported Giuliani's first mayoral bid, he became opposed to him in January 1996, and began writing a series of columns in the New York Daily News criticizing Giuliani, most frequently accusing him of being authoritarian and insensitive. In 1999, the columns were compiled into the book Giuliani: Nasty Man. He resumed his attacks, and had the book re-published, in 2007, after Giuliani announced his candidacy for president. In May 2007, Koch called Giuliani "a control freak" and said that "he wouldn't meet with people he didn't agree with. That's pretty crazy." He also said that Giuliani "was imbued with the thought that if he was right, it was like a God-given right. That's not what we need in a president."
Koch originally endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States during the 2008 presidential campaign, then endorsed Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the general election. In his endorsement of Obama, Koch wrote that he felt that (unlike in 2004) both sets of candidates would do their best to protect both the United States and Israel from terrorist attacks, but that he agreed with much more of Obama's domestic policies, and that the concept of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin ascending to the presidency "would scare me". In 2010 he rescinded his support for Obama, stating a belief that Obama could very well harm American–Israeli relations.
In 2011, Koch, a lifelong Democrat, endorsed Republican Bob Turner for Congress, because Koch "wanted to send a message to Obama to take a stronger position in support of Israel." Many Jewish voters joined Koch to elect the Roman Catholic Turner, rather than his Jewish Democratic opponent David Weprin, giving Republicans their first win in the NY-9th Congressional seat since the 1920s.
Koch often wrote in defense of Israel and, also, against anti-Semitism. He was a contributor to Newsmax, a conservative magazine. He also appeared in the documentary FahrenHYPE 9/11 defending President Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and blasting Michael Moore. Koch was quoted in the film saying of Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11, "It's not a documentary, it's a lie."
Koch was an early supporter of the Iraq War. In July 2007, Koch wrote that he was "bailing out" of his previous support for that war, due to the failure of the United States' NATO allies, and other Arab countries, to contribute to the war effort. Koch wrote, "I would support our troops remaining in Iraq if our allies were to join us. But they have made it clear they will not." He added that the U.S. must still "prepare for the battles that will take place on American soil by the Islamic forces of terror who are engaged in a war that will be waged by them against Western civilization for at least the next 30 years."
On April 8, 2010, Koch wrote a piece in The Jerusalem Post excoriating what he saw as increasing anti-Catholicism in the media, largely made evident by coverage of the priest sex abuse scandals. While denouncing the instances of abuse, Koch, himself Jewish, stated "the procession of articles on the same events are, in my opinion, no longer intended to inform, but simply to castigate." In this article, Koch states that he believes that many in the media, some themselves Catholic, exhibit such anti-Catholicism largely because of their opposition to the Catholic Church's teachings on such issues as abortion, homosexuality, and artificial contraception, among others. He stated that, while he himself opposes the Catholic Church's teaching in all these matters, he firmly believed that the Catholic Church had the right to espouse these beliefs, and furthermore to expect its members to espouse them, as well, calling the Roman Catholic Church "a force for good in the world, not evil."
Koch was a lifelong bachelor, and his sexual orientation became an issue in the 1977 mayoral election with the appearance of placards and posters (disavowed by the Cuomo campaign) with the slogan "Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo." Koch denounced the attack. The rumor that Koch was a closet homosexual was further fueled by Larry Kramer, who often criticized the Mayor for not doing more to ease the HIV/AIDS crisis in the city.
In 1989, Koch was interviewed about a book he had coauthored with Cardinal John J. O'Connor. When the interviewer asked Koch to clarify his views on homosexuality relative to Cardinal O'Connor, Koch responded, "I happen to believe that there's nothing wrong with homosexuality. It's whatever God made you. It happens that I'm a heterosexual." He once told New York magazine "Listen, there's no question that some New Yorkers think I'm gay, and voted for me nevertheless. The vast majority don't care, and others don't think I am. And I don't give a (expletive) either way!"
He was frequently accompanied at political functions by his friend Bess Myerson, whose presence was regarded by some observers as only an effort to defuse rumors of his alleged homosexuality.
In the 2009 film Outrage, David Rothenberg (who served as New York City Human Rights Commissioner in the Koch administration) "went public with his knowledge of Koch’s boyfriend, Richard Nathan (who died of AIDS in 1996), who told him Koch made it clear that he had to leave town soon after Koch was elected mayor." According to AIDS activist Rodger McFarlane, "Dick was threatened, physically threatened and financially threatened ... and he was terrified, in the middle of the night, leaving the city."
Shortly before he succumbed to AIDS in 2009, former New York City senior assistant corporation counsel Denis deLeon accused Koch of sexual harassment during a visit to Koch's apartment. Koch "dismissed the story mockingly" in a conversation with journalist Andy Humm in 2011.
He died on February 1, 2013, of heart failure.
His funeral took place on February 4, 2013, at Temple Emanu-El, a Reform Jewish congregation in Manhattan. Because of Koch's fierce loyalty to Israel, the Israeli Consul-General to New York City spoke. The former president, Bill Clinton, also addressed the congregation, serving as President Obama's representative. New York City Police Department helicopters gave a fly-over at the service.
In April 2008, Koch had purchased a burial plot in Trinity Church Cemetery so that he could be buried in Manhattan. It is the only graveyard in the borough accepting new burials. He chose to put the last words of the late journalist Daniel Pearl on his tombstone: "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish."
(On the occasion of his primary loss to David Dinkins) "The people have spoken...and they must be punished."
"I'm the sort of person who will never get ulcers. Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I'm the sort of person who might give other people ulcers."
"If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist."
|Member of the New York City Council
for the 2nd District
|Mayor of New York City
|U.S. House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th congressional district
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 18th congressional district
|Judge of The People's Court