By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, February 4- Former New York City mayor and Bronx native Edward Irving Koch died of congestive heart failure at approximately 2 am on February 1 at New York Presbyterian Hospital at the age of 88.
Interestingly, February 1 was the date that a new documentary entitled “Koch” opened in theaters in New York City and throughout the nation. Before his most recent illness began, the former mayor had been scheduled to participate in question and answer sessions at two theaters in Manhattan o the same date. Fortunately, Koch had the opportunity to view an advanced screening of his story.
Koch, the son of Polish immigrants Louis and Yelta Koch, was born in the Bronx on December 12, 1924. His earliest days were spent in the Crotona Park East area of the borough before the family moved to Newark, New Jersey.
Koch served in the 104th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in Europe during the Second World War. He was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.
After the war ended, he continued his education at the College of the City of New York (CCNY). He next graduated the New York University School of Law in 1948.
After a dozen years as a practicing attorney, Koch ran for elective office, losing a race for the NYS Assembly. The loss did not end his political involvement. One year later, 1963, he challenged Carmine DeSapio, the chief of Tammany Hall, for the post of District Leader in the Greenwich Village area in which both resided.
The surprise victory of the young reform Democrat was but the beginning of a lengthy and successful career in public office in New York City for the ebullient Koch. He won re-election in 1965. He was a member of the City Council from 1967-9. He served as a member of Congress from a district in Manhattan from 1969-77.
The entire city became familiar with the Congressman when he won the Democratic Party nomination for NYC mayor over a crowded, star studded primary field and then won a run-off with Mario Cuomo. He was victorious in the general election in November.
The year of 1977 was extremely difficult for New York. There was a black-out during the scorching hot summer that was followed by looting and rioting. A high crime rate and arson fires throughout the Bronx affected the life of city residents. Television viewers in all areas of the country watching the World Series heard broadcaster Howard Cosell say, The Bronx is burning.” The threat of “Son of Sam” was in the minds of New Yorkers until his capture. Another threat, the financial bankruptcy of NYC affected its residents.
In his tribute to Koch, the current Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. commented on Koch’s efforts on behalf of the residents of his place of birth, “Mayor Koch was always proud of his Bronx roots. During his administration, he helped rebuild the South Bronx, creating a task force that helped restore burned out buildings while creating new thriving communities-work that still resonates to this day.”
His popularity during his first term as mayor led him to receiving the Democratic and Republican nominations in his successful bid for re-election in1981. Four years later, he was easily elected to his third term as mayor. Corruption scandals that involved high ranking members of the Democratic Party in the city and racial divisions led to the end of Koch’s mayoralty as he was defeated by David Dinkins in the Democratic Party primary of 1989.
Unlike most elected public officials, Koch remained in the public eye of New Yorkers for the next 23 years of his life. The witty, outspoken and personable former mayor was regularly seen on television, in motion pictures, heard on the radio and authored books on a variety of topics. His backing was eagerly sought after by many candidates of both major political parties.
In the days following his death, he was eulogized with positive words by those who were his political comrades and opponents. President Barack Obama and men and women interviewed on the streets of New York weighed in with opinions of Koch’s accomplishments and personality.
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