Six days ago, Ed Koch described the tombstone that he had arranged for himself.
On my tombstone, which awaits me at the Trinity Church nondenominational cemetery at 155th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, I had inscribed the last words of Daniel Pearl — uttered at his publicly viewed murder — which were, “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.” I believe those words should be part of the annual services on the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur, and should be repeated by the congregants.
The Democratic Party has been a party divided between its “visionary” liberals and its practical leaders, and while Koch came out of the “visionary liberal” circle of Manhattan, he rose to become one of the practical mayors who helped revive cities and states in time for an economic revival.
New York mayors tend to be a controversial breed. They’re usually hard to like and when they’re easy to like, they’re usually awful at their jobs. Koch, like Giuliani, was not easy to like. Both men micromanaged everything, employed an authoritarian style, loudly disparaged their foes and appeared perpetually restless even tasked with one of the biggest jobs in the world. All this they appeared to have inherited from an earlier police commissioner, governor and reformer, Theodore Roosevelt.
Ed Koch was a surprisingly politically incorrect figure who reflected New York’s working class, more than the elitist liberals in Greenwich Village who first backed him. His death comes at a time when the working class liberal is nearly extinct and the left has successfully molded everyone from the AFL-CIO to the NAACP into a monolithic ideological coalition preaching the virtues of illegal immigration, abortion and gay marriage.
Koch was often wrong, but he was also often right. That can be said of most people, but few politicians were as willing to take on politically incorrect issues and follow their hearts. You couldn’t really predict what Koch would do at a given moment and if you waited around long enough, he would often reverse himself, and yet it doesn’t take away from moments such as his snub of Nelson Mandela, a vicious thug that the left had transformed into a plaster saint.
The consistent inconsistency of Koch made him a dynamic figure. A man who was always reinventing himself, but also a man who was always willing to challenge some conventional wisdom and take on some establishment. Ed Koch was always moving forward, always doing something. He could not be relied on in the long run, but suddenly, at an unexpected moment, there he would be emerging to take an unpopular position on an issue that you couldn’t imagine any Democratic politician taking.
Like its other two great mayors, LaGuardia and Giuliani, Ed Koch reflected the nervous energy of a dynamic city, a city whose chief characteristic was a good-humored toughness, a willingness to laugh at itself, promote itself and to always keep working no matter what.
Forced out by his own party and replaced with David Dinkins, an incompetent political hack who nearly destroyed New York City in a wave of racial hatred and economic decline, while focusing on such important urban issues as South Africa, Koch still kept on working and stayed active, doing everything from YouTube movie reviews to political commentary.
Even in his last days, Koch continued writing and speaking out, calling for a tax on non-profits in a letter to Senator Schumer and writing another letter to UK Prime Minister Cameron saying, “The Czech Republic, mindful of what happened to it, is the only European country to vote no to Palestinian statehood. When one of your predecessors told the world that he offered “peace in our time,” he wrote himself into history as a disgrace. How will history on this issue recall you?”
Writing on illegal immigration in November, Koch said, “Supporting such a broad amnesty is a good example of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s comment “defining deviancy down,” meaning if you can’t control illegality, accept it and make it legal.”
On free speech, he wrote, “We will not surrender our most precious and fundamental right to those Islamists and others opposed to those democratic liberties who threaten us with violence and death if we don’t surrender.
It is the view of many that the Islamists in the Muslim world who rioted, alleging as the reason the video made by an American provocateur which blasphemed Muhammad, were simply using the video as a pretext. Their intention was to celebrate the catastrophe of 9/11 by other acts of terrorism on the anniversary date of the original infamous act.
Will we have the resolve to stand up and protect the lifestyles and mores of western civilization now under attack by the Islamists in a war that can and will probably last for decades or will we ultimately surrender? I believe we will fight for our freedoms as we did in World War II and once again prevail.”
On the death penalty, Koch write, “Death penalty opponents always claim racism in the meting out of the penalty, conveying that blacks and Hispanics are victims of that racism. What they rarely state is that while proportionate to the population whites commit fewer murders than blacks and Hispanics, they receive the death penalty in greater numbers.”
In one of his final articles, Koch told another of his stories from his time as mayor.
When I was mayor, we had a huge problem of homeless individuals, men and women. Many of the women had developed the shopping bag syndrome and constantly carried bags of detritus having no use at all.
They would not come into the shelters that we provided out of fear. I arranged to have many of the churches and synagogues offer their buildings for use by these women with the city paying them for the costs of energy and providing the beds and blankets with the religious institutions providing the volunteers to care for them through the night.
I recall one night at 1 a.m. being awakened at Gracie Mansion by a call from a reporter who said he was down at Grand Central talking with an elderly woman who was lying on the floor and he thought I was the only one — as Mayor — who could get her to come to one of our facilities. He asked would I “please come down to Grand Central?”
Of course, I did, driving down at that hour with one of my security detectives. There she was, lying at the door on the ground. As I walked over, I said, “I’m Mayor Koch, and I’d like to help you and take you to one of our homes for a good night’s rest and dinner.” She said, “I know who you are and you can’t make me go.” I replied, “Of course not.”