The passing of Mayor Ed Koch is a very sad day not just for New York City, but for our nation at large. At a time when cynicism toward politicians is at a fever pitch and there is little confidence in our elected leaders, Koch represented the very best of politics. He never saw to look sincere and honest, he just was.
In listening to the reaction of ordinary New Yorkers remembering the mayor this morning, almost all knew that he loved the city, was committed to all of its citizens, and the city loved him back. Many remembered seeing Koch standing on the steps of city hall, then not surrounded by a cast iron set of gates and waving to people as everyone went to work, or greeting people on their way to and from the subway at a random station and thanking them for their work and commitment. It is easy to be loved in great times, but what makes these testimonials even more special is that he governed during a time of great uncertainties, violence, and poverty. The economy of the city was weak, with low job creation rates, high unemployment, high rates of crime, and powerful union activity and militancy. Throughout all these challenges, the mayor brought people together and built a sense and true feeling that we were all in it together.
He carried his spirit of optimism to the very last breath. Speaking at a press conference just a few days ago, from his wheel-chair Koch said, "I am 88 years old today and still lucky to live in the greatest city in the world."
A self-described “liberal with sanity” he kept his wits with him, but his mark on good governance and New York is remarkable.
As an alumnus of City College, (class of 1945), Ed Koch participated in various events that I had the pleasure to attend. Just last year at the Annual CCNY Gala, I had the pleasure to speak with the former mayor. He asked as to what I wanted to do with my life. I replied that the choice was between teaching and research at our Alma Mater or going to make money, and despite the desire to put my family on good financial footing, I am choosing public service. His response was the typical Koch response, saying that he made the same poetic decision and loved every moment of it.
Thank you, Mayor Koch for your lifetime of service and inspiration. You were and will continue to be the moral compass of our city as we strive and work to build a more perfect union. Your legacy will live on through the Koch Scholarship in Public Service at CCNY and in deeds and actions of the citizens of our city whom you will continue to inspire to serve.