Until I sat down to write this column, I’d forgotten how long I’d known Ed Koch.
“Known” is a funny word. Of course everybody “knew” Ed Koch. But I first worked with him more than 25 years ago, when he was still Mayor, and I was a producer at WMCA radio. Koch would come in to do “Ask the Mayor,” and I would screen the calls.
What I remember back then is that none of us at the station had any use for him personally. He barely bothered to learn peoples’ names. His counterpart, Governor Mario Cuomo, would do his radio show, and would know where everyone went to school
But with Koch, it was usually about Koch, especially back then.
Through the years, there was the explosive Koch. I remember his bitterness when he lost to David Dinkins when he ran for a fourth term.
“I’ll get a better job,” he growled. “But you won’t get a better Mayor.” He was right on both counts.
When a voter would say, “Run again, Ed!,” he would respond: “No! The people threw me out and the people must be punished!
One thing that Koch was underestimated for was his brains. As former President Bill Clinton pointed out at his funeral, he loved to write letters. In them, he once told me, he could distill what was floating around in his mind.
I also remember reading a letter he received from Mother Teresa. It hung on the wall in Koch’s office. I told the mayor how impressive it was to have Mother Teresa’s autograph. I then made the mistake of jokingly adding: “You could probably get alot for that on EBay.” I instantly realized I’d said something wrong.
“EBay??!! What are you nuts? That’s ridiculous, that’s whacko, this is a holy woman.” And he went on and on and on.
I had gotten what so many others had gotten before: The Koch trifecta: “nuts,” “ridiculous,” and “whacko.”
I interviewed Koch many times over the last 10 years, often to talk about a new book he had written, or sometimes about whatever was bothering him. And so much bothered him.
But it was always a joy to listen to his mind work. He was not an ideologue, but, as he loved to say, “a liberal with sanity.”
He could give every politician a lesson: say what you believe, even if you think the people won’t like it. He has a few acolytes on today’s scene: Chris Christie is the one who comes to mind. But it remains to be seen how long it will work for the governor of New Jersey.
When he was older, Koch would even occasionally ask you a question about you! But he would add, “See how nice I am!”
I’ll miss Ed Koch. I remember a few years ago, I thanked him for coming on my radio show.
“Are you kidding?” he said. “Somebody is gonna let me rant on the radio for a half hour? Such a deal!” And although I couldn’t see him, I knew he was making that oversized Koch smile.
That was Koch. Always a showman, and what a show it was!