Ed Koch: Happy 88th Birthday

Ross Sandler

Ed Koch celebrated his 88th birthday at a party/reunion held at Gracie Mansion on December 12, 2012. He is, as he says, still relevant. Ed Koch broadcasts his current opinions in regular blogs, movie reviews, political broadsides and letters. But if you really want to know Ed Koch, read his first two books, Mayor and Politics. Koch wrote Mayor shortly after losing his 1982 run for Governor against Mario Cuomo. Politics followed one year later. The two books present New York City politics with unforgettable characters, raw and revealing stories of politicians entertainingly told, and an insider’s view of a city experiencing a decline in population, a rise in crime, a city budget in crisis and a political establishment still expecting to whack up the municipal pie. Koch reveled in detailing these demands and, of course, his dominance over them.

Law students who were born in 1990 have no personal recollection of the Koch Administration. When they read Mayor and Politics the books reveal unfamiliar territory to them. Everyone they know today favors middle-class values, rides the subways, and brings dates to the Meatpacking District and the Lower East Side. Borough Presidents are figureheads, political bosses are unknown, and Disney has always been the biggest attraction in Times Square.

Two features of the books stand out for the students. The first is the humor revealed in the political confrontations described by Koch. We who were around know that Ed Koch was the equal of any professional story teller, but that comes as a surprise to students today who see few politicians who can either be revealing or funny about their governmental business.

The second surprise is the story of how Koch, without the pedigree of many of his rivals, rose to dominance in politics. The students read carefully the stories of Koch’s early years in Greenwich Village grappling with such issues as noise on MacDougal Street, street corner oratory and club house elections. They come to realize the potential for themselves if they are willing to demonstrate the same drive and ambition that were so evident in the young Ed Koch.

We all like to reread the books too. It is like listening to Ed Koch re-tell his wonderful stories over and over. And they are always relevant.

Ross Sandler

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