HIZZONER: MEMORIES OF ED KOCH

Oct 12, 2013 by

 

Marnie Macauley

 

Native New Yorkers, like me, are a strange bunch. Even if we move, you can take me out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of me.

 

True, New York City is a wild dichotomy, where a Trump or a Sara Jessica Parker may chat it up with a bus driver while waiting for a hot dog from a street vendor. But we New Yorkers have been known on occasion, for – a touch of imperiosity. For example, we feel we are the United States of America – all 50 of them (except for L.A. where the gorgeous people go to do a gig on “Dancing With the Stars”).  Ask an inveterate New Yorker, “Have you been to Fargo or Milwaukee?” and they’ll look at you … quizzically. They’ve heard of these places, but wonder why anybody’s there (except to grow corn or do something with cheese … maybe).

 

In this insular world of the New Yorker, the relationship to their mayors is equally intense. As New York is the center of the world to its inhabitants, its Mayors are Presidents, or maybe Prime Ministers (or maybe Dictators).

 

More, to paraphrase Lenny Bruce. “If you live in New York, you’re Jewish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic. If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re goyish even if you’re Jewish.” And much like the Jewish joke … a New York “Mayor” is “mayor of eight million Presidents.”

 

On February 1st, like most New Yorkers, I not only mourned Hizzoner Ed Koch, but I was genuinely … surprised. You see, Ed, like the Statue of Liberty and the EmpireStateBuilding seemed a venerable part of the Apple – the “Goldena” Apple with mega-chutzpah at his core.

 

Walking around, waving with an impish smile, the man who resembled Frank Perdue   strutted around his City like a giant Jackie Mason, talking, yelling, cracking jokes, and asking questions, such as: “How’m I doing?” New York’s 105th Mayor, as opinionated as a Brooklyn cabbie, was also equally quick to cut down “wacko” (as he called them), enemies such as Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani (“nasty man”), the Rev. Jesse Jackson. At least one City Council member was reduced to tears. “I’m not the type to get ulcers,” he would say, “I give them.”

 

Part politician, complete showman, he was daunting and undaunted, taking on roles as   television judge, radio talk-show host, author, law partner, newspaper columnist, movie reviewer, professor, and commercial pitchman after leaving office.

 

I first met Hizzoner in 1973 at his famous rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment (which he kept throughout his 12 years as mayor [1978-1989] – for $475 a month). A gentleman I was keeping company with at the time was his campaign manager during Koch’s first early unsuccessful mayoral bid.

 

At this meeting on his home turf, the rumpled man with the rolled up sleeves could tell an anecdote “mit” the timing of a Borscht belt tummler – wowing the crowd.

Surprisingly, when things got one-on-one “personal,” he’d shift and look around uncomfortably for an escape hatch, revealing little of Koch, the man.

 

Yet publicly, he was unstoppable. During his try for Mayor, my friend would drive him around in a car that was so old; the only thing it lacked was a running board. It needed one. The future legendary mayor, spent more time pushing this beater than sitting in it. He didn’t win, but the good news was, he must’ve lost 50 pounds. It isn’t easy shlepping 2,000 pounds across the QueensboroBridge (which was later re-named for him).

 

One of my favorite crossovers with Ed was at a wedding. The bride was a blond “Shiksa Goddess” whose family was so blue; they named a tiny island off of Manhattan for them. She thought it would be nifty to have the “chassenah” on a boat—not a yacht. The Circle Line tourist company. Unfortunately, a monsoon hit the Hudson River; and the boat … leaked. Thank God it was from above. Now, that was a sight. The Mayor of New York, along with the rest of us “ethnics” shlepping tables – right—left – more left – front — to avoid drowning – the people and the food. The food, however, should’ve.

 

With our drenched gowns, hair sopping, and shoes puddling … they served.

 

New Yorkers are foodies. “Jewishy” New Yorkers make Gordon Ramsay look like he’s serving K-rations. If there aren’t three mains and five sides, we start wasting. Koch, whose second home was a deli (Zabars) like the rest of us, got … a paper bag. The Shiksa Goddess made it a picnic. In a monsoon, with wet people running. In the bag was 1-a wet chicken leg; 2- Saran-wrapped wet spinach; 3- a wet cookie.

 

When the boat finally docked 100 panicked people including Ed, knocked each other over running to the exit ramp! “DELI! Get me to a deli!  — and a dryer! Come, we’ll share a cab!!”

 

I still remember Ed at the BrooklynBridge during a transit strike yelling, “Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We’re not going to let these *&^) bring us to our knees!” And we all applauded. Now this was a hands-and feet-on mayor.

 

One of my favorite stories about Ed took place on August 6, 1987, while he was in the hospital the day after suffering a stroke. He was visited by Mother Theresa.

 

“I knew you were ill, Ed,” she said. “You are in my prayers, and I came to see how you are doing.”

“Mother, you do so much for all of us, is there anything I can do for you?”

“Yes,” she responded, without hesitation. “I need two parking permits.”

He later said: “I arranged for the two permits she needed to park in front of the hospice … where she cares for 14 terminal patients. Hey, Even a saint has to park, right?”

New York’s most colorful Mayor colorful mayor since Fiorello La Guardia, was laid to rest in the ecumenical Trinity Church cemetery … one of the rare sites left for a Manhattan burial. A Star of David adorns the top of Ed Koch’s tombstone, along with the last words of Daniel Pearl, the reporter murdered in 2002 by Pakistani terrorists: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” In an extraordinary coincidence, Koch died 11 years to the day after Pearl was killed.

 

More, the mayor, credited with saving the City from financial disaster, died on the very day the documentary “Koch” premiered.

 

Koch’s epitaph, which he wrote himself reads, in part: “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the city of New York, and he fiercely loved its people … ”

 

Till the end, Mayor Ed Koch, wanted his grave to be accessible to his people by bus … and maybe pass by and perhaps say to his perennial “How’m I doing?” “Hey Ed … you did good.”

 

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