independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Former New York Mayor Koch dies

New York Mayor Ed Koch, right, with presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in 1980 (AP)

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died aged 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Mr Koch died today of congestive heart failure.

In City Hall, Mr Koch embodied New York for the rest of the world. He won a national reputation with his feisty style and his trademark question: "How'm I doing?"

During his years as mayor, from 1978 to 1989, his tight fiscal policies pulled the city out of severe financial difficulties. But homelessness and racial tensions soared and critics charged that City Hall's responses were ineffective. His mark on the city was set in steel when the Queensboro Bridge, connecting Manhattan to Queens, was renamed in his honour in 2011.

After leaving City Hall in January 1990, Mr Koch battled assorted health problems and heart disease. Bald and bombastic, paunchy and pretentious, the city's 105th mayor was quick with a friendly quip and equally fast with a cutting remark for his political enemies.

"You punch me, I punch back," he once memorably observed. "I do not believe it's good for one's self-respect to be a punching bag." The mayor dismissed his critics as "wackos," waged verbal war with developer Donald Trump ("piggy") and mayoral successor Rudolph Giuliani ("nasty man"), lambasted the Rev Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears. "I'm not the type to get ulcers," he wrote in Mayor, his autobiography. "I give them."

When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Mr Koch, a Democrat, crossed party lines to support him and spoke at the Republican convention. He also endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election efforts at a time when Mr Bloomberg was a Republican. Mr Koch described himself as "a liberal with sanity."

He was also an outspoken supporter of Israel, willing to criticise anyone, including President Barack Obama, over decisions he thought could indicate any wavering of support for that nation.

Among his favourite moments as mayor was the day in 1980 when, seized by inspiration, he walked down to the Brooklyn Bridge during a rare transit strike and began yelling encouragement to commuters walking to work.

"I began to yell, 'Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We're not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!' And people began to applaud," he recalled at a 2012 forum. His success in rallying New Yorkers in the face of the strike was, he said, his biggest personal achievement as mayor.

Mr Koch was a champion of gay rights, taking on the Roman Catholic Church and scores of political leaders. He was fast-talking, opinionated and sometimes rude, becoming the face and sound of New York to those living outside the city. He became a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and playing himself in a number of movies, including The Muppets Take Manhattan and The First Wives Club and hosting Saturday Night Live.

Press Association

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