WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats alike, has died.
Koch, 88, died early last Friday morning of congestive heart failure, his spokesperson told the New York Times. He had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks to drain fluid from his lungs.
Famous for greeting constituents with “How’m I doing?” the Jewish mayor presided over some of the city’s most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.
Koch’s third term was mired by corruption scandals and burgeoning racial tensions, and after losing his bid for election to a fourth term in 1989, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish Yoda, blessing or cursing political penitents as he saw fit, and not always hewing to the prescripts of his Democratic Party.
In 1990, on a visit to Jerusalem during the first intifadah, Koch was struck by a rock in the head. He was barely nicked, mopping up his wound with a handkerchief, but the incident became one of Koch’s proudest moments, he often said. “I shed a little blood for the people of Israel,” he would recall.
Koch never met a solicitation for an opinion that he didn’t like. He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful 1993 bid to defeat David Dinkins, who had defeated Koch four years earlier, and went on to share – and sometimes take over – the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York governor George Pataki, senator Al D’Amato and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The measure of the warmth both parties felt for him was reflected last week by statements from their Jewish affiliates.
“Mayor Koch was a passionate and principled leader and an outspoken defender of Israel and the Jewish community,” Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, said in a statement. “He chose principle over politics and didn’t engage in partisan bitterness.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council statement underscored that whatever his past peregrinations, Koch worked to elect and then re-elect President Barack Obama.
“Koch was a consummate and proud Jewish Democrat who advocated fiercely for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the progressive domestic policies in which he truly believed,” a statement said.