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February 06, 2013 10:08 AM How He Did: Ed Koch

By Jamie Malanowski

Ed Koch died last Friday at the age of 88. In retirement, he became a beloved figure, a loud, opinionated uncle, unhip in his easy gracelessness, comfortable in his blotchy skin. But in his prime, he was a large figure, with a great intellect and enormous confidence, vain, nasty, ebullient, fun. One of his greatest moments was during the transit strike of 1979, when Koch, who had no responsibility for making the deal, stood with quasi-Churchillian courage and roared encouragement to straphangers-turned-pedestrians (like me) who had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. But he relished the spotlight too much, and took too much pleasure in ladeling like schmaltz his jokes and his insults and his self-regard on the tough, grind-it-out management of a broke city, at which he also excelled. When the Donnie Manes scandals broke, and Koch was revealed to have to have been goofballing around while the thieves connived, Koch was embarrassed, and never quite the force. Still, he was a remarkable figure and to have been a lowly aide to a City Councilman during the Koch reign was a rich and memorable and highly educational experience.

koch and me

At his memorial Monday, Michael Bloomberg eulogized him: “No mayor, I think, has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did, and I don’t think anyone ever will. Tough and loud, brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah — he was our city’s quintessential mayor.” That sounds about right. (Above: my moment with Ed, in February 1981, when he appoints me Executive Director of the Citizens Committee for Water Conservation. When days later a massive nor’easter ended the drought that occasioned the appointment, my career in government came to an end.)

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.