Why NYC Owes Ed Koch a Big Debt

Monday, 11 Feb 2013 10:19 AM

By Jon Friedman

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New York City owes the late Ed Koch, its mayor from 1978 to 1990, a major debt. The man was one of a kind and the perfect, joyful ambassador of a city that is joyful and one of a kind as well. Koch died earlier this month and left behind a legacy as rich as that of any mayor in his time.
My favorite Koch anecdote tells you a lot about his style. I remember covering a press conference in City Hall. It probably had something to do with the 1980s wave of insider trading among prominent Wall Street figures (though I am not positive about the reason for the presser).

He may have been wearing slippers — the mind plays tricks on us all and it was a very long time ago — but he was definitely not clad in the politician's standard-issue garb of wing-tips or loafers.

It made an impression on me that he wasn't wearing shoes in front of an audience as important as The Media. So, I asked: "No shoes?" He shot back, "This is MY house!"
Ed Koch surely didn't tolerate fools (and foolish questions, as we now know). It wasn't because he was a naturally haughty or imperious politician. Anything but, as a matter of fact.
No, Koch was too busy enjoying his life to sweat the small stuff. He had a strong sense of self — and passed it on to his city in the 1970s, when the Apple badly needed a jolt of self-confidence. 
We had just come through a debilitating fiscal crisis (immortalized by The New York Daily News headline: "Ford to City: Drop Dead"). We were out of luck — and, it seemed, cash. But Koch didn't believe that the city was on its last legs. He ran for mayor on a platform of chutzpah. He refused to give in to those who believed more strongly in economist doomsayers than in the human spirit.
He refused to concede that the city was deteriorating right before our eyes because of the financial emergency. He taught us to appreciate the fun of living in The Greatest City on Earth. The stories of Koch's outrageous (and even outlandish) behavior are typical Ed. Remember when Koch appeared on "Saturday Night Live" in October 1978 as the guest host in the first show's fourth season? 
Remember when he and John Belushi talked on the show in comic routines? The guest musicians that night were The Rolling Stones, who had recently made New York their musical hub. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood went on to live for years in the city, giving it an added status in the Pantheon of rock and rock royalty. Koch created an environment that made it fun to live in New York — fun and stimulating.
He was never dull, and neither was his city during his time. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers and Creating a Personal Revolution. Click here to order a copy. Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.


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