Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, has died.

Former New York mayor Ed Koch has died, at 88 years of age, from congestive heart failure.

His grave marker bears the Star of David and a Hebrew prayer, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” and with the last words of journalist Daniel Pearl before he was beheaded in 2002 by terrorists: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”

In the Times: "Mr. Koch is survived by New York itself, as an old friend put it a few years ago."

A NYT photo-essay is here.

In an eerie stroke of timing, the biographical documentary "Koch" opens today in theaters nationwide.

Many LGBT and HIV activists believed he should and could have done more during the peak of the AIDS crisis. There have long been questions about his own sexual orientation; he refused to answer, and believed private matters to be private. Andrew Sullivan's remembrance is well worth a read.

In the late '90s and early '00s, I produced conferences with Jason Calacanis at Silicon Alley Reporter. We invited (former, but eternal) Mayor Koch to attend and speak more than once. He was, as amply demonstrated elsewhere, a great speaker. But he was also a gracious, down-to-earth person to us, backstage; nice to even a young nobody at the time like me.

Years later when we shot this Boing Boing TV episode with the great David Byrne, in a Manhattan building that once housed government offices, I found an old photographic slide featuring Mr. Koch. He was, of course, still alive then. But it was like seeing a ghost. As if his spirit was so expansive, his presence so wide, it permeated even the old abandoned crevices of forgotten, musty structures like the one we were exploring that day. His life will forever be so deeply woven into the history of that city.


  1. I lived in NYC during the fat and happy ’90s, but seeing Ed Koch walking around my neighbourhood  always provided a living reminder of the city’s more challenging days. As you say, a very open and gregarious person, who managed to be a celebrity and enjoy the attention without the entitled attitude or resentment that often comes along with fame.

    I only said hello to him once in the street, but what I remember is how often I saw him at the movies, always sitting by himself: alone but not lonely in a city that allows for that more than others, a city that he defined as much as it defined him.

    1. I grew up in NYC during all of Koch’s terms throughout the 70s and 80s and nothing really spelled the end of old New York than his predecessors.  Koch is not without his faults of course but you have to remember the warzone that the LES was before the 90s.

  2. New York survived Koch like it survived Moses – scarred, and less livable.
    I lived in Loisida, and Koch helped developers destroy it and turn it into playland for the wealthy. He was a coward during the AIDS crisis. 
    Please do not wax nostalgic for a mayor only slightly less awful than Bloomberg.

      1. Given his way, Robert Moses would have run an expressway through Greenwich Village. The Cross Bronx expressway destroyed entire neighbourhoods, indeed entire communities. Moses consistently championed the automobile over public transit or the pedestrian. This attitude in such a a powerful and largely unaccountable individual did hurt NYC.

        That said, Moses’ earlier projects were engineering and economic triumphs that brought the city infrastructure it sorely needed. So with Moses it’s a mixed legacy from an unelected official who overstayed his welcome (unlike Koch, who was voted out and moved on to other things).

        1. Not to defend it, but this “put expressways and overpasses everywhere” idea of Moses was part of the culture at the time when public transit was seen as a relic of an earlier time rather than a valuable part of the future. There were even plans in the 1960s to run an overpass over the National Mall in DC – think how *that* would have changed that iconic space.

      2. Sounds like mainstream opinion to me.

        His critics point out that he displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City, destroying traditional neighborhoods by building expressways through them, and claim that he preferred automobiles to people, contributed to the ruin of the South Bronx and the amusement parks of Coney Island, caused the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants Major League baseball teams, and precipitated the decline of public transport through disinvestment and neglect.


        1.  If not for moses NYC would never have grown to be the city it is today.  He was on the only person forward thinking enough to build for the future.  Sadly, no one today is doing that.  50 years from now we’ll all be wishing there were more Robert Moses.

          1. If not for moses NYC would never have grown to be the city it is today.

            A gigantic, filthy, largely broken down and dysfunctional megalopolis?

            He was on the only person forward thinking enough to build for the future.

            A future based on limitless consumption of fossil fuels?

            50 years from now we’ll all be wishing there were more Robert Moses.

            Because there won’t be enough resources to feed the people of New York City and they’ll have resorted to robbing graves for food?

          2.  Hey, don’t be so hard on NYC.  It’s one of the greatest cities on Earth-#1 in my book.  And, we have the best public transportation of any US city out there, and of most global cities as well. 

            I think your City Envy is showing.

    1. If you’re going to put NYC mayors on a spectrum, Koch is going to start looking less and less awful. Also comparing the mixed legacy of Robert Moses to that of Koch or any other elected official is to ignore enormous differences in time, scale and public accountablity.

  3. i like andrew sullivan, but i kind of think his piece was too harsh, too soon. couldn’t he have waited a couple days out of deference to his friends and family?

  4. I liked Ed Koch, I lived in NYC from 1978-1993, In a city of 8 to 10 million people he was always approachable, you could hate him or love him, but you could always reach him and talk to him.

    As one of my High school teachers said to me “he was an honest man surrounded by dishonest people” no one is mayor of NYC and then succeeds at higher office running NYC make you dirty

  5. About 3 years ago, my family was celebrating some birthday or other at Peter Luger’s steakhouse when Koch and a small entourage of guys in suits came in and sat at the next table. They laughed and talked and slapped one another’s backs and enjoyed their steak and my mom and aunt, big Koch fans (for his personality more than his politics) were awed and impressed to be sitting a table away from this guy. They always said he was a “great New Yorker”.

    I was a kid during his reign, and he was mostly notable to me for his cameo in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

  6. overrated, just like reagan. his supporters want to create this image of a great man, when he really wasn’t.

    he wasn’t much of a humanitarian as some people want to believe he is. he was also a supporter of the israeli government’s treatment of palestinians. he neither stood up for AIDS or for human rights.

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