If there is any arena that has as much drama, comedy and spectacle as live theater it is politics. A politician has to be one part idealist, one part broker and two parts showman. And no man exhibited the quintessential politician or New Yorker like its 105th mayor, Ed Koch.
“How’m I doin’?” – the catchphrase forever synonymous with former Mayor Ed Koch – became as much as a slogan as “Where’s the beef” or “Who shot J.R.?” Yes kiddies, it was the 1980’s and New York (as I stated many times before) was a different city. When Ed Koch was first elected in 1977, I was a wee babe and the calamities that plagued NYC were of no concern to a toddler. Some say Koch saved the city; that is an opinion that I won’t agree with or deny but what I will share is memories of the Koch-era New York City that I remember.
The Guardian Angels – Now who remembers them? Red beret-wearing avengers ready to get involve, stop crime and ultimately get their behinds whooped. They added no real level of safety as they paraded up and down the streets but they were cool to watch, sort of like one of the gangs in The Warriors – lot of bark and no bite.
42nd Street – Who remembers the arcade? Yes, my 42nd Street is not like the one tourists flock to now. Times Square was a masala of theater and sin. After going to go see A Chorus Line, a visitor could then treat themselves to the myriad of sex shops and strip clubs that were in the area.
Graffiti – Everywhere, but good graffiti. It was an art movement; one-third of hip hop, a subculture spawned in the Bronx that has engulfed the Earth. It was inspirational and the bombers that risked jail and fines for a fleeting moment of glory became underground gods.
Nightlife – Truly legendary, the personification of the underworld meeting the elite, places like Danceteria, Trax, The Rooftop, Paradise Garage, The Mudd Club, CBGB and The Loft were alive with music, sweat, burgeoning artists and subcultures. The lifestyle described in Puccini’s La Boehme was pumping through the Big Apple like subway cars shuttling through the underground veins of the city. It was the height of a modern renaissance, the likes may never be seen again (damn… and I just missed it too).
AIDS Crisis – As La Boehme dealt with the scourge of tuberculosis, NYC (and the nation) was coming face to face with AIDS. Back then is was a silent killer and a modern plague that most people didn’t understand or want to understand.
Bernhard Goetz – Like I said, it was totally different time. When “The Subway Vigilante” (a moniker Goetz became known for) blasted four would-be assailants he became the ultimate anti-hero. Sparking debates on race, violence and gun laws, ole’ Bernie became a figure New Yorkers would not soon forget.
Yusuf Hawkins – His death was the last of three racially motivated attacks that happened in the city and may have been one of the reasons Koch lost his fourth mayoral bid to David Dinkins.
When I think of Ed Koch and the New York City of my youth I reflect on all these memories and more. For me Koch’s time in office could be summed up by quoting Charles Dickens – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness….”
In the years following his mayoralty, Koch went on to become a partner in a law firm, a commentator, an adjunct professor at NYU, a judge on The People’s Court and hosted a movie review video show but it is his tenure as mayor that people will always know Ed Koch for. In small neighborhoods there is always a guy that knows everything about the neighborhood, old gossip, new gossip; he has probably lived in that neighborhood for decades, seen all the changes and knows everyone. Usually that fellow receives the moniker “the mayor” as he is looked upon as the aficionado of the block because everyone knows him. Well that was Ed Koch. He was born to be mayor of New York City, and he still was the mayor even when he wasn’t He embodied the city more so than any politician that held the office of mayor. He could be as electrifying as the lights in Times Square and had a presence as tall as The Empire State Building. In a city that breeds originality, Ed Koch was an original whose mold can never be recreated. With the deepest respect I say rest in peace Mayor Koch and thank you for being part of the New York City that made me.