Koch was elected to the City Council and then to Congress, serving from 1969 to 1977 as the representative from the wealthy East Side’s “Silk Stocking” district.
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 he became mayor.
Drugs? Send convicted dealers to concentration camps in the desert. Decaying buildings? Paint phony windows with cheery flowerpots on brick facades. Overcrowded jails? Stick inmates on floating prison barges.
With New York in dire financial condition in 1977, Koch defeated Mayor Abe Beame and Cuomo in the Democratic primary to win his first term in City Hall. He breezed to re-election in 1981 and 1985, winning an unprecedented three-quarters of the votes cast.
In 1982, he made a run for governor against then-Lt. Gov. Cuomo. But his bid blew up after he mouthed off about life outside the big city.
“Have you ever lived in the suburbs?” Koch told an interviewer about a possible move to Albany. “It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life.” He said life in the country meant having to “drive 20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears, Roebuck suit.”
It cost him the race.
Koch’s third term was beset by corruption scandals, one of which ended in the suicide of a top party boss in 1986. Also, Koch’s friend and commissioner of cultural affairs, former Miss America Bess Myerson, stepped down after being accused of trying to influence the judge in a court case involving her boyfriend.
Koch fell out with many black voters for purging anti-poverty programs and saying, among other things, that busing and racial quotas had done more to divide the races than to achieve integration. He also said Jews would be “crazy” to vote for Jackson during the civil rights leader’s 1988 presidential campaign.