1130 Ed Koch (1924-2013)
The thing about this guy was that he was the same in private as he was in public. And there was no difference between the symbol and the man. If you need to know what that means, stop reading this and do something else.
This is not for people who are hearing about him for the first time and not for people who don’t know that he pronounced his name the way it’s spelled, and not “coke.”
You want to read history? The New York Times has a wonderful ten million word obit that’s been years in the making and more complete than anything that’ll be said here.
The Big Question about Ed Koch is “what made this guy stick in our heads and hearts all these years when he (insert whatever it is he did that made you angry.)”
And the Big Answer is “because he was real. Because he was all of us.” He gave form and voice to what it means to be a New Yorker. Brash. Rushed, Rumpled, loud, opinionated, good hearted, practical, funny, a sucker for a sob story and a man of his word.
Partnering with him on the radio for six years was more fun than anyone deserved to have in a small room with bullet proof windows. Highlight of the day when he arrived, sat down at the microphone and promptly fell asleep. Anyone want to hear a few recorded minutes of The Mayor snoring?
“What’s that ugly spot on your head, Ed?” “My face?” “No, no, the real spot...” this would be followed by a long explanation of the medical condition of the moment. Old guys have medical conditions, and by this time, the man already was old, as was this friendship.
He took a hardball as well as he threw one.
“Mr. Mayor, I fear you are turning into a right wing whacko.”
“Just because I support George W. Bush doesn’t mean I’ve sold out. I love America and this is the guy who’ll protect us -- and Israel.”
The kind of variability and complexity of what he supported or condemned was just another way he represented and made real the picture many of us have of ourselves. If it was Okay with The Mayor, it was okay.
Stuff you won’t read in the obituaries and maybe not even in all those books he wrote or the books that were written about him:
--I like taking my shoes off at the airport security check. Everyone knows who I am and if I have to do it, you shouldn’t complain when YOU have to do it. And you should.
--You’re making a mistake. Don’t retire. You’ll hate it. You’ll be bored to death.
--Queens is getting too conservative.
--I was born in the Bronx. We moved to Newark. Nice town, but I couldn’t wait to get back. No, wait. Forget the nice town part.
On Governor (Mario) Cuomo: The primary voters were wrong.
On standing up straight: I’m tall enough even when I slouch and it’s a lot less work.
Endless little stories go together to make the big picture. And the picture was big. Big enough so that you needed a room big enough to see it in perspective. New York was that room. It’s a good thing he wasn’t mayor of Pocatello.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013