Ed Koch, the brash, colorful and often-confrontational mayor who helped lead New York City out of its brush with bankruptcy in the 1970s, launching an astonishing municipal turnaround that continues to this day, has died. He was 88.
Koch was recently readmitted to the hospital after being treated for water in his lungs, The Associated Press reported. A spokesman confirmed the news of Koch's death early this morning.
Koch battled pneumonia in December and was being treated with antibiotics, and he was hospitalized and treated for anemia in September.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who released a statement this morning, said, " He was a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend. In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader. Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback. We will miss him dearly."
Koch took office Jan 1, 1978, with New York City all but broke. Thousands of cops, firemen, sanitation workers and teachers had been laid off. Bridges were crumbling, the subways were caked in grime and graffiti, and crime was taking off.
Koch helped restore the city's credit with budget cuts, and he revived the city's spirits with his unflagging enthusiasm for all things New York, and an unflinching willingness to stand up to opponents.
By the time he left office at the end of 1989, New York was far from problem-free, but Gotham's future no longer was in doubt.
"He went at it with a sense of joy, a sense of combat, a sense that made us all know, 'That's the voice of New York, that's what we are,'" the writer Pete Hamill once said.
That voice never held back. Koch was forever dispensing opinions, and forever asking New Yorkers, "How 'm I doing?" He attacked opponents as "crazy," "wackos" or "radicals."
To critics who said he had drifted too far from his liberal roots, Koch said he was "a liberal with sanity."
"Part of the thing that was most refreshing and most appalling about Koch is that he will stand for what he believes in," the Rev. Al Sharpton, who repeatedly jousted with Koch in the 1980s, said in 2005. "He will not say what you want him to. And he will not be intimidated either way."
Koch put it this way: "I'm the sort of person who will never get ulcers. Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I am the sort of person who might give other people ulcers."
When the New York Giants won the Super Bowl in January 1987, Koch refused to allow a ticker-tape parade for the champs because the Giants had left New York for New Jersey's Meadowlands more than a decade earlier.
"If they want a parade, let them parade in front of the oil drums in Moonachie," Koch said, referring to a community near the Meadowlands.
While such outspokenness endeared Koch to constituents, his sharp tongue contributed to his biggest political defeats.
In 1982, while running for governor, Koch gave an interview to Playboy magazine in which he called living in rural areas "a joke" and described suburban living as "wasting your life." To top it off, he called living in the state capital, Albany, "a fate worse than death."
The comments alienated suburban and upstate voters, and Koch lost the Democratic primary to a New York City lawyer named Mario Cuomo, who went on to serve three terms as governor. Koch later called his remarks "the dumbest" he ever made.
Six years later, during the fiercely contested New York Democratic primary for president, Koch said Jewish voters would be "crazy" to support the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The remark infuriated and energized African-American voters, propelling Jackson to a surprising second-place finish behind Michael Dukakis.
The following year, the city's black voters got their revenge, helping Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins beat Koch in the 1989 Democratic primary. Dinkins went on to defeat former U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani to become the city's first black mayor.