Ed Koch, the Mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989 and a Congressman representing parts of New York City from 1969 to 1977, died early this morning at the age of 88.
I met him in person only once, end-November 1985, when as editor of Accessories magazine I interviewed him in his City Hall office. In the ten short minutes they gave me (a timer was literally ticking away on his desk), he proved himself feisty, highly opinionated, and intrinsically very kind.
The interview started off badly. I had intended to discuss bringing back manufacturing to New York City, his views on import tariffs, quotas, commercial rent control and similar issues affecting the industry. Instead, I asked him about two articles in The New York Times I’d read that morning on the train: one about the number of young children who were dying in homeless shelters and the other about the exorbitant amounts of money Manhattan parents were spending for kids’ birthday parties. “How does it feel to be mayor of a city dominated by the absurdly rich and the tragically poor?” I asked him. “You don’t like it, move to Russia!” he shot back at me. And it was downhill from there, with Koch now in a combative mood, rejecting many of my questions as irrelevant and non-factual.
At the end of a difficult but revealing interview (many of Koch’s quotes are surprisingly relevant today), I timidly asked him if he would autograph the program from a third grade school play in which my eight-year-old son had played the part of NYC mayor Ed Koch. He gave me his only real smile of the day and wrote, while beaming ear to ear:
Dear Michael, I heard you did a great job playing me. Thank you for making me look good. Ed Koch, 11/27/1985.
From the interview in Accessories magazine, January 1986:
“We should not be the patsy: practicing free trade while the countries driving us into bankruptcy are deriving the benefits without practicing it.”
“I believe people view New York City as a very special and sophisticated place so it’s extremely helpful to push ‘made in New York City’…”
“I’m one of very few people in life who really loves his work; I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m very thankful for this.”