He was quick with a quip or a putdown, and when he got excited or indignant — which was often — his voice became high-pitched. He dismissed his critics as “wackos,” feuded with Donald Trump (“piggy”) and fellow former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (“nasty man”), lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.
“You punch me, I punch back,” Koch once observed. “I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”
Or, as he put it in “Mayor,” his best-selling autobiography: “I’m not the type to get ulcers. I give them.”
Koch’s favorite moment as mayor, fittingly, involved yelling. During a transit strike that brought the subways and buses to a halt in 1980, he strode down to the Brooklyn Bridge to boost the spirits of commuters who had to walk 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.
New Yorkers eventually tired of Koch.
Homelessness and AIDS soared in the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall’s response was too little, too late. Koch’s latter years in office were also marked by scandals involving those around him and rising racial tension. In 1989, he lost a bid for a fourth term to David Dinkins, who became the city’s first black mayor.
Yesterday, Dinkins called Koch “a feisty guy who would tell you what he thinks.”
“Ed was a guy to whom I could turn if I wanted a straight answer,” he told Fox 5 News.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg saluted Koch as “a civic savior for our city in desperate times,” saying “the whole city was crumbling” when Koch was elected.