Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch Dies; Will Be Buried in Church Cemetery


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Former Mayor Ed Koch, the combative, acid-tongued politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during a three-term City Hall run in which he embodied New York chutzpah for the rest of the world, died Friday. He was 88.

Koch died at 2 a.m. at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital, spokesman George Arzt said. The funeral will be Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

Koch was admitted to the hospital on Monday with shortness of breath, and was moved to intensive care on Thursday for closer monitoring of the fluid in his lungs and legs. He had been released two days earlier after being treated for water in his lungs and legs. He had initially been admitted on Jan. 19.

After leaving City Hall in January 1990, Koch battled assorted health problems and heart disease.

The larger-than-life Koch, who breezed through the streets of New York flashing his signature thumbs-up sign, won a national reputation with his feisty style. “How’m I doing?” was his trademark question to constituents, although the answer mattered little to Koch. The mayor always thought he was doing wonderfully.

Bald and bombastic, paunchy and pretentious, the city’s 105th mayor was quick with a friendly quip and equally fast with a cutting remark for his political enemies.

“You punch me, I punch back,” Koch once memorably observed. “I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”

The mayor dismissed his critics as “wackos,” waged verbal war with developer Donald Trump (“piggy”) and mayoral successor Rudolph Giuliani (“nasty man”), lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.

“I’m not the type to get ulcers,” he wrote in “Mayor,” his autobiography. “I give them.”

When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Koch, a Democrat, crossed party lines to support him and spoke at the GOP convention. He also endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election efforts at a time when Bloomberg was a Republican. Koch described himself as “a liberal with sanity.”

He was also an outspoken supporter of Israel, willing to criticize anyone, including President Barack Obama, over decisions Koch thought could indicate any wavering of support for that nation.

In a WLIW television program “The Jews of New York,” Koch spoke of his attachment to his faith.

“Jews have always thought that having someone elevated with his head above the grass was not good for the Jews. I never felt that way,” he said. “I believe that you have to stand up.”

Under his watch from 1978-89, the city climbed out of near-financial ruin thanks to Koch’s tough fiscal policies and razor-sharp budget cuts, and subway service improved enormously. But homelessness and AIDS soared through the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall’s responses were too little, too late.

Koch said in a 2009 interview with The New York Times that he had few regrets about his time in office but still felt guilt over a decision he made as mayor to close Sydenham Hospital in Harlem. The move saved $9 million, but Koch said in 2009 that it was wrong “because black doctors couldn’t get into other hospitals” at the time.

“That was uncaring of me,” he said. “They helped elect me, and then in my zeal to do the right thing, I did something now that I regret.”

Among his favorite moments as mayor was the day in 1980 when, seized by inspiration, he walked down to the Brooklyn Bridge during a rare transit strike and began yelling encouragement to commuters walking to work.

“I began to yell, ‘Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We’re not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!’ And people began to applaud,” he recalled at a 2012 forum. His success in rallying New Yorkers in the face of the strike was, he said, his biggest personal achievement as mayor.

His mark on the city has been set in steel: The Queensboro Bridge — connecting Manhattan to Queens and celebrated in the Simon and Garfunkel tune “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” — was renamed in Koch’s honor in 2011.

Koch was a champion of toeiva rights, taking on the Roman Catholic Church and scores of political leaders.

He was fast-talking, opinionated and sometimes rude, becoming the face and sound of New York to those living outside the city. Koch became a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and playing himself in a number of movies.

When Koch took over from accountant Abe Beame in 1978, one thing quickly became apparent — with this mayor, nothing was certain. Reporters covered him around the clock because of “the Koch factor,” his ability to say something outrageous any place, any time.

After leaving office, he continued to offer his opinions as a political pundit, movie reviewer, food critic and judge on “The People’s Court.”

Koch remained a political force in Albany well into old age. He secured a promise in 2010 from then-aspiring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a number of state legislators to protect the electoral redistricting process from partisanship — and then vocally protested when Cuomo and others reneged on that pledge two years later.

Even in his 80s, Koch still exercised regularly and worked as a lawyer for the firm Bryan Cave.

At his 80th birthday bash, Bloomberg said Koch was “not only a great mayor and a great source of advice and support to other mayors, he happens to be one of the greatest leaders and politicians in the history of our city.”

He was in the hospital twice in 2012, for anemia in September and then for a respiratory infection in December. He returned twice in January 2013 with fluid buildup in his lungs.

He had undergone surgery in June 2009 to replace his aortic valve and had gallbladder surgery a month later. He had a pacemaker inserted in 1991 and was hospitalized eight years later with a heart attack. In early 2001, he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924, the second of three children of Polish immigrants Louis and Joyce Koch. During the Great Depression, the family lived in Newark, N.J.

The future mayor worked his way through school, checking hats, working behind a delicatessen counter and selling shoes. He attended City College and served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II, earning his sergeant stripes.

He received a law degree from New York University in 1948 and began practicing law in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, where his political career began as a member of the Village Independent Democrats, a group of liberal reformers. He defeated powerful Democratic leader Carmine DeSapio, whose roots reached back to the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine, in a race for district leader.

Koch was elected to the City Council and then to Congress, serving from 1969-77 as representative for the “Silk Stocking” district that was then known for its millionaire Park Avenue constituency.

The liberal Koch was the first Democrat to represent the district in 31 years. But his politics edged to the center of the political spectrum during his years in Congress and pulled to the right on a number of issues after becoming mayor.

His answer to the war on drugs? Send convicted drug dealers to concentration camps in the desert. Decaying buildings? Paint phony windows, complete with cheery flowerpots, on brick facades. Overcrowded city jails? Stick inmates on floating prison barges.

Koch defeated incumbent Beame and future Gov. Mario Cuomo in the Democratic primary to win his first term in City Hall. Like his hero Fiorello LaGuardia, the fiery fusion party mayor who ran the city from 1933 to 1945, he ran on the Republican and Conservative party lines in the 1981 mayoral election.

He breezed to re-election in both 1981 and 1985, winning an unprecedented three-quarters of the votes cast. At the time, he was only the third mayor in city history to be elected to three terms.

While mayor, he wrote three books including the best-seller “Mayor,” ”Politics” and “His Eminence and Hizzoner,” written with Cardinal John O’Connor. He wrote seven other nonfiction books, four mystery novels and three children’s books after leaving office.

Early in his second term, Koch flip-flopped on his pledge to remain at City Hall and decided to run for governor against then-Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo. But his 1982 gubernatorial bid blew up after Koch mouthed off about life outside his hometown.

“Have you ever lived in the suburbs?” Koch told an interviewer who asked about a possible move to Albany. “It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life.”

It cost him the race, but it convinced many of the 8 million city residents that Koch belonged in New York. Meanwhile, Cuomo went on to serve three terms as governor.

Koch’s third term was beset by corruption scandals. Queens Borough President Donald Manes — a close ally — committed suicide in March 1986, after having resigned over kickback and patronage allegations. Bronx Democratic leader Stanley Friedman and three others were also tarred. Koch’s commissioner of cultural affairs, former Miss America Bess Myerson, stepped down in the wake of a scandal involving her boyfriend and a judge overseeing a legal case concerning him.

As the pressure grew, Koch suffered a minor stroke in 1987.

The administration was also beset by racial unrest, first after the 1986 death of a black youth at the hands of a white gang in Howard Beach and three years later after a black teen was shot to death in Brooklyn’s tough Bensonhurst neighborhood by a group of whites.

Six weeks after the second slaying, Koch lost the Democratic primary to the city’s eventual first black mayor, David Dinkins. Koch later said the simmering racial tensions didn’t lead to his defeat.

“I was defeated because of longevity,” Koch said. “People get tired of you. So they decided to throw me out.”

The man who bragged that he would always get a better job, but New Yorkers would never get a better mayor, left his City Hall office for the last time on Dec. 31, 1989.

Looking back, Koch said in a 1997 interview: “All I could think of was, ‘Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, I’m free at last.'”

He was finished with public office, but he would never be through with the city. At age 83, Koch paid $20,000 for a burial plot at Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space.

“I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone,” Koch told The Associated Press. “This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

Not long after buying the plot, he had his tombstone inscribed and installed. The marker features the last words of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

It also includes a Jewish prayer and the epitaph he wrote after his stroke:

“He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.”



  1. Koch’s death kind of describes his life. Full of contradictions. On the one hand being very proud to be a Jew. On the other hand, not enough to being repulsed by the idea of being buried in a Church Cemetery.

  2. The egotist wanted to be burried in Manhattan where lots of people could see the grave and the only available grave was in the church cemetery. Doesn’t make any sense – does it?

  3. Ed Koch, another negative attention seeking liberal politician. He’s going to be interred in a church cemetery so that he can slap his heritage in the proverbial face. Nice….

  4. you fanatics never cease to amaze, a Jew is a Jew if you like it or not, the man is dead get on with your lives and get ready for Shabbos who cares where he gets buried

  5. It’s sad to me that after he’s passed the YWN chooses to run the AP article on him which refers to him disparagingly.

    He was a good man, loved Israel and being Jewish. Yes, he was inconsistent, including his choice of burial, but let it be.

  6. So the old bag finally kicked the bucket? Who is getting all his left over wealth? Gay clubs? Planned parenthood? ACLU? NAACP? Nebach! We all know what Rav Avigdor Miller ZT”L said, about this RASHA!

  7. Ed Koch inscribed on
    his tombstone the last words of
    Daniel Perl “My father is Jewish,
    my mother is Jewish, I am
    The last words before going to be burried in a church cemetery…

  8. By choosing to be buried in a Christian cemetary shows what kind of jew he was, even the lowest of the lows wish to be buried in a jewish cemetary as many say “was born a jew and wish to die a jew”

    Ed Koch was a low life when he lived and even a bigger low life when he is dead, or perhaps he may be considered dead a long time as chazal say “reshoim b’chayahem nikroem meisim”

  9. Does the AP use the word “toeiva” in its articles?
    Didn’t we learn our lesson already from the uproar surrounding the edited White House photo last year?

  10. ywn pays ap for their content, they can edit it however they feel.

    what shaychis to compare this to a photo released by the whitehouse that was doctored up?

  11. If you read the original article that YWN had when he purchased the plot, it mentiones that he spoke with rabbis at the time and was told to put railings around it. While I’m no Posek, and have no idea if the rabbis he spoke with were frum, I think the intent was to have it be considered not part of the surrounding Christian cemetary. As such, I’d not say he was rejecting his Jewishness by being buried there.

    Was he a Tzadik? It’s pretty clear that he was not. But it seems to me that he’s no worse than any other Jew raised in a non-observant home. He was proud of his Jewishness, and it’s now up to the ultimate Judge – not us – to determine his fate.

    an Israeli Yid (presently in the US – so no, it’s not yet Shabbos for me.)

  12. How do we know that the fact that Koch was a proud successful Jew who helped Jewish causes was not a hige kiddush hash-m for which he is receiving the highest level of Gan Eden for as we speak?? The short answer is we don’t! Besser shveig

  13. the Klausenberger Rebbe z”tl said a non-frum Yid that died in the holocaust went immediately to highest heights of Gan Eden.
    it’s so disappointing to see so many “frum” people so eager to put down another Jew. Take a look in the sifrei Chofetz Chaim, loshon hara may be worse than anything Mayor Koch ever did in his life.
    I wonder what people will say about us after we’ve left this world r’l, ever think about that?

  14. As the founder of the Toeva movement, he made this perversion totally legal, and even gave it civil rights preferred status.

    Koch is headed for the deepest levels of Gehinnom!

  15. In 1978 I was a 27 year old, newly minted attorney working in the City’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In the course of my work I developed a proposal to petition the Federal government to allow the City to decrease “maintenance of effort” spending requirements in annual increments, simultaneously as the City was being made incrementally to tighten its accounting standards.

    The proposal made its way up the chain, until it wound up in a package of materials on Mayor Koch’s desk. Within a few days, I received a lengthy hand-written note from the Mayor, thanking me for my work, telling me what he learned from it and exhorting me to “keep up the good work.”

    This was vintage Ed Koch as CEO, I learned, as such a personal thank you and encouragement was not rare from him. Neither were his dropping into a Municipal Building office and asking the staff at their desks his signature “how’m I doin?” We loved him; he was affectionately “Ed” to everyone from the Director of Management and Budget to the copy-room clerk. His esprit de corps for and love of “his” City was infectious…and we all felt it.

  16. Yes, I did, but you edited it out. Weird. In the future, if you’d like to communicate with me, please don’t do so in your comment section. Thanks.

    Moderators Response: Weird is right…If YOU would like to communicate with YWN (such as accusing YWN of theft, or the other blatantly false accusation that we chose to edit), please don’t do it in the comment section. Do you feel all important hiding behind “mosheemes2” and making such accusations publicly?

  17. Please stop communicating with me through your comments section. It’s really not appropriate.

    Moderators Response: Please stop communicating with YWN through the comment section. It’s really not appropriate.