(Photo by Seitu Oronde)
By Michael Horowitz
BRONX, NEW YORK, February 1- Ed Koch, a man I view as the city's best mayor in my lifetime, was a man who wanted credit for his accomplishments. He died, last Friday, after five decades of varied accomplishments.
From the former Mayor's perspective, the rebuilding of the Bronx stood out as one of his shining accomplishments. And yes, he did read community newspapers, like this one.
I recall, in the 1980s, how ticked off he was at me when I wrote an article in which former Borough President Fernando Ferrer, then a candidate for mayor, claimed credit for the rebuilding of a borough that was largely burned to the ground in the 1970s.
“What do you mean giving Ferrer credit for the rebuilding of the Bronx?” Koch asked rhetorically. “I did that, and I'm going to put you in touch with a man from the Crotona Park area who will show you what we did in that area in terms of the development of new and affordable housing.”
Within two days, a black man from the Crotona Park area, around the Bronx Zoo, contacted me, and he showed off what he and Mayor Koch had accomplished in terms of rebuilding the neighborhood that the man, an elderly gentleman, still called his home.
Mayor Koch loved to talk, and he loved to say outrageous things, but he also accomplished much more, during his 12-year tenure as mayor, than most politicians accomplish in a lifetime.
The contrast between Koch and former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who were rival candidates for mayor in 1977 and for governor 10 years later, still stands out in my min.
I interviewed both men in the 1970s, Cuomo, when he was running for mayor, and Koch, after he had been elected as mayor.
When I peppered Cuomo with pointed questions relating to the agreement he brokered to pave the way for resident management here, the man who was to become the state's governor dismissed me as someone who was beneath him.
In contrast, Koch, when he came to Co-op City in response to a News story on illegal dumping along the service road leading to the Bartow Avenue entrance to the New England Thruway, confronted me directly, in a style that fit many of the stereotypes about him.
He said that I was a “Cassandra,” or a prophet of doom, for suggesting that the city would do nothing about an eyesore and safety hazard that had been allowed to fester for years.
I remember how, much to my surprise, the city acted speedily, after Koch's visit to Co-op City, to clean up the eyesore that had been neglected for years.
Koch loved to talk, and he aroused the public with a whole host of outrageous one-liners over the course of a career in public life that spanned more than five decades. However, he didn't only talk, as many politicians do; he actually go things done.
A native of the Bronx, the former Mayor, who was buried on Monday, was a quintessential New Yorker in many ways. He was brash, but he was also sophisticated, cultured, well-educated, and worldly.
He started out in politics as a liberal Democrat from the Greenwich Village area, but he evolved into a practical politician who wanted to get things done.
Unlike most politicians today, he had friends from both the Republican and Democratic parties. He even endorsed a number of Republicans in elections because he thought that they would do a better job in the positions for which they were running than their Democratic Party rivals.
Koch was a unique kind of politician --- a non-ideologue whose major concerns were arousing the public consciousness about issues of major concern, and above all, else, getting constructive things done.