Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York mayor whose political hechsher was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats alike, has died.
Koch, 88, died Friday morning, the New York Times reported. Koch, famous for greeting constituents with “How’m I doing,” presided over New York’s most difficult late 20th century years, from 1978-1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.
Koch’s third term was mired by corruption scandals and burgeoning racial tensions and after losing his fourth bid for reelection in 1988, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish yoda, blessing or cursing political penitents as he saw fit, and not always hewing to the prescripts of his Democratic Party.
Koch never met a solicitation for an opinion that he didn’t like.
He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful 1992 bid to defeat David Dinkins, who had defeated Koch four years earlier, and went on to share — and sometimes take over — the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D’Amato and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
He stumped hard for George W, Bush’s presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel’s back, according to Koch.
Four years later, Republicans hoped to win a repeat endorsement for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Koch, alarmed at what he saw as Republican plans to degrade the social safety net he had championed as a congressman in the 1970s, instead threw in with Barack Obama.
He proceeded to become Obama’s biggest Jewish headache, lacerating the president with criticism for his perceived coolness to Israel.
“I weep as I witness outrageous verbal attacks on Israel,” he wrote on the Huffington Post in April 2010. “What makes these verbal assaults and distortions all the more painful is that they are being orchestrated by President Obama.”
In 2011, Koch endorsed Bob Turner, a Republican contending what was seen as a safe Democratic seat in a special election, even though his opponent, David Weprin, was both Jewish and stridently pro-Israel.
Turner won and, message sent, Koch watched Obama retreat from criticism of Israel’s settlement policies — and did not hesitate to claim credit for the conversion.
“I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast,” Koch wrote supporters in an email after that election.
Koch turned away Republican pleas to re-up his attacks on Obama before the last election, and enjoyed telling friends that he had received no less a pleader than Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who made the president’s unseating his mission.
Koch instead enthusiastically endorsed Obama in a long video just before the election — an appearance Jewish Democrats credit with upping Obama’s Jewish numbers in Florida, a critical swing state.