Ed "How'm I Doin'?" Koch (1924-2013)
And Noah declares today "Eulogize an Asshole Day"
Ed Koch wasn't such an evil son of a bitch as to command a slot on my personal "would like to dance on his grave" list, but he was a miserable self-serving son of a bitch, and while I can't say I'm happy we're finally rid of him (I've got a list of those too, which largely duplicates the "would like to dance on his grave" one), I can't say I'm sorry either.
Early today our poor colleague Noah, finding himself trapped in front of a screenful of "all Ed, all the time," sent this cry from the heart to Howie and me:
EULOGIZE AN ASSHOLE DAYI especially love the image of Rudy Giuliani seething at all the love being showered on Mayor Ed, since Rudy is one of those people who resents any attention paid to anyone else as attention that should have been paid to him. Another person like that, of course, was Mayor Ed. (By the way, for the record what has generally been known on the Manhattan side of this vital bridge to Queens as the 59th Street Bridge used to be called formally the Queensboro Bridge and is now officially the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.)
Ed Koch: My 2 cents. Today is apparently "Eulogize An Asshole Day" on our local Channel One. Koch is gone. Ding Dong, the bitch is dead. There is literally nothing but Ed Koch, Ed Koch, Ed Koch, Ed Koch on New York's local news channel; not even a decent weather forecast. What a waste of valuable airtime! It's bad enough that the city had already renamed the 59th Street Bridge after him, a renaming that most New Yorkers do not accept. Officially, it's called the Edward Koch Bridge or something unearned and miserable like that. It's a beautiful bridge. It deserves better. What was wrong with "The 59th Street Bridge", as celebrated in song by no less than Paul Simon? I often think of hurling paint-filled balloons at the new signs, but damn it, they have those cameras everywhere now, so that avenue of free speech is closed to me now. The only good thing about all of this love for Koch is that it's probably driving Rudy Julieandrews completely nuts with jealousy and envy. In fact, Rudy's probably decided to hire a film company to construct a glowing all day long program about "America's Mayor -- The Incomparable Rudy G!" for the day he goes -- directly to hell. Yes, the days when cretinous politicians die should be celebrated but in more of a "good riddance" way; a "don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya" kind of way... well, actually, a "may your fingers be smashed by them slamming Pearly Gates up yonder in the clouds as the big boot of St. Peter sends you the other way" kind of way! There, I feel better now. Let his body be dragged along the subway tracks by the A train.
Noah returned to the subject later in the day, explaining:
I guess the man just makes me feel quite nihilistic. Perhaps ol' Ed was the man who inspired the punks in the 70s. The reporters say he cleaned up the city. Hell, I still remember my feet crunching the crack vials that littered the sidewalks in his time.
AT LEAST THOSE WHO DO WISH TO DANCE ON
MAYOR ED'S GRAVE DON'T HAVE TO HUNT FOR IT
The prepared grave, complete with mausoleum-quality stone, has been waiting for him since 2009 in the southeast corner of the eastern half (i.e., east of Broadway) of Manhattan's uptown (in the mid-West 150s) Trinity Church Cemetery. As is so often the case with Mayor Ed, there is irony here.
If you blow up the photo of the waiting headstone, you will see inscribed the final words of murdered Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish." Trinity Church, which sits on lower Broadway at the mouth of Wall Street, has been, just about since the English takeover of formerly Dutch New Amsterdam, the heart of Episcopalian New York City, and as some wag once ventured, "In New York City, all money is Episcopalian."
Apparently that's not how Mayor Ed is coming to rest here. As the AP reported today:
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.But if ever there was a man who belongs in the bosom of Moneyed New York, a man in thrall to the power interests of the city, it's Mayor Ed. Which is cruelly ironic, since he entered public life as a crusading Reform Democrat, at the heart of the struggle to wrest control of the party and city government from the tight-fisted grasp of the political bosses emblemized as "Tammany Hall." Oh, I suppose it's possible that he was always more conservative than he let on back in the day, but if so, he kept it awfully well hidden.
"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.
By the end, though, Mayor Ed was not only endorsing Republicans but participating actively in New York State Republican Party politics. He liked to claim that he hadn't changed, that it was his onetime liberal allies who had. Of course that's BS. He went from a crusading-against-the-bosses reformer to a full-blown stooge of the city's power elites, Democratic and Republican. (I don't think he had to dig that deep in his pockets to come up with the $20K for the Trinity gravesite, not to mention the extra scratch for the fancy stone and the rest of the plot decor.)
On a recent walking tour somewhere around the city, I heard it told that Mayor Ed had actually said that it's the function of artists in search of affordable space to move into blighted neighborhoods and revitalize them to the point of pricing themselves out of the neighborhoods. I should add that I haven't absolutely verified that the mayor said this, but the authority for it seems plausible.
What I find remarkable isn't that Mayor Ed thought this, since as far as I can tell it has been a basic governing principle of the city's power elites for some decades now -- dating back, perhaps, to the Koch administration. No, what I find remarkable is that Hizzoner may actually have said it. No matter how fervently you may believe stuff like this, you're not supposed to say it.
I'm sorry, but this is not the Ed Koch who stood David-like against the Goliath of Tammany Hall. It's some cruel parody of that Ed Koch. So when we latter-day New York liberals, folks like Noah and me, think about Mayor Ed, the feeling goes beyond a level-headed assessment of the (much overrated) pros and (scandalously underconsidered) cons of his political legacy. There is always that feeling of betrayal.
As there has been with regard to his private life. Is there anyone who doesn't take it as an article of faith that the lifelong bachelor was gay? I'm prepared to believe that by and large he just didn't do sex, but his steadfast refusal to allow discussion of his sexual politics goes way beyond his undoubted right to privacy. During his years in public life, and in particular his three terms as mayor, the city was beginning to come to grips with the issue of the basic rights of citizenship of what we think of now as its LGBT citizens. Mayor Ed was pretty much MIA -- as was the post-mayoral Ed. (UPDATE: I should have noted that during Mayor Ed's tenure, 1978-89, the AIDS epidemic was raging, and he wasn't much more engaged than the notoriously oblivious President Reagan.)
Early on in his time as mayor, Mayor Ed became celebrated for mingling with ordinary New Yorkers and asking, "How'm I doin'?" It had a nice folksy air, the mayor hobnobbing with the commonfolk and asking -- as I assume he meant the question -- for their sense of the job he was doing for them.
Still, the way it came out, and the way it lingers in memory, it was always about Mayor Ed himself, and also the people who thought just the way he did. Other people basically had no place in his social or political cosmos. Is it any wonder that he wound up in the bosom of the Republican Party?
I won't be dancing on Mayor Ed's grave. Spitting is another matter, though.
Simon and Garfunkel sing "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" at their 1981 "Concert in Central Park."