Ed Koch, the lively, contentious mayor of New York, who died at the age of 88 on February 1, left an indelible mark on the city where he lived and worked for most of his life. Koch served as mayor from 1978 to 1989 and is widely remembered for his feisty personality, sharp political skills and his now legendary remark, “How’m I doin?”
During his 12 years in office, Koch helped lead New York out of its darkest financial days and into a period of prosperity and growth. In many respects, New York was a relatively poor city that was losing population when Koch took over as mayor, according to Professor Robert Snyder, director of the American Studies Program at Rutgers University and author of a forthcoming book on New York’s post-war mayors. “By the time he left office, New York had a growing population that was increasingly middle class and affluent.”
But inequality in the city also grew during Koch’s three administrations, a result of his somewhat conservative economic policies, says Snyder. He ran New York at a time when many cities were struggling to rebuild after decades of suburban flight, high crime and the decline of urban manufacturing as the traditional economic base. By the time Koch left office, New York was less white and its economy was expanding, thanks to a boom in real estate. A similar pattern would slowly emerge in other major urban centers around the country.
Politically, Koch moved away from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and his combative style put him at odds with blacks and other minorities, who felt he didn’t do enough to help New York’s working poor. His last years as mayor were further tarnished by a series of corruption scandals. In 1989, he was defeated in the Democratic primary by David Dinkins, who became New York’s first African-American mayor.
Asked what his legacy might be, Koch said he wanted to be remembered for straightening out the city’s finances, building affordable housing and for reforming the city’s judicial process. But most will remember him as an authentic voice of New York: loud, brash and never afraid to say what was on his mind.
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