Ed Koch’s ebullient personality and can-do attitude provided a much-needed shot in the arm to a city that had barely dodged bankruptcy under the dour and ineffectual Abe Beame, and his willingness to buck the city’s liberal establishment was a balm for New Yorkers, particularly those in the outer boroughs, fed up with the accelerating social experimentation that characterized city governance for decades.
Mr. Koch is widely credited with leading the city away from the ruinous fiscal policies of his predecessors and laying the groundwork for the relative prosperity of the 1980s.
He was also a pioneer in seeking to revamp New York’s perennially dismal housing stock, an effort that revitalized what many had thought to be lost neighborhoods. He also began the badly needed rebuilding process of New York City’s deteriorated infrastructure.
Though several of his initiatives were unsuccessful, they did point the way for his successors. Of particular note were his efforts to hold down spending, cut vastly wasteful anti-poverty programs – which earned him the enmity of black leaders – and reduce the out of control power of municipal unions.
His third term was marked by scandals involving subordinates, appointees and political allies – though he was never linked personally to any wrongdoing. But his overall record was a positive one, as evidenced by his broad popularity and influence after leaving office.
While Mr. Koch was hardly a role model for Orthodox Jews in terms of his personal religious observance, he took vocal pride in his heritage and never tired of defending Israel.
And people will long remember that he saw to it that his tombstone was inscribed with the final words of Daniel Pearl before the latter’s beheading by jihadists in 2002 for the crime of being a Jew:
“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”