New York's brash former mayor, Ed Koch, dies at 88

Story highlights

  • There will be a funeral Monday for Ed Koch
  • Koch served as New York City mayor for three terms
  • He died Friday morning of congestive heart failure
  • His personality made him popular nationwide

Ed Koch, the brash former New York City mayor who typically greeted constituents with a "How'm I doin'?" died Friday at the age of 88, his spokesman said.

Koch died of congestive heart failure, spokesman George Arzt said. The former mayor felt very tired Thursday morning and was admitted to the intensive care unit, Artz said. Koch lost consciousness that afternoon and passed away around 2 a.m. Friday.

The lawyer-turned-public servant was a U.S. congressman from 1968 until he ran for mayor of the city in 1977. He served three terms until David Dinkins defeated him in a Democratic primary.

New York City has lost "an irrepressible icon," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

"In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader," Bloomberg said. "We will miss him dearly, but his good works -- and his wit and wisdom -- will forever be a part of the city he loved so much."

Koch told New York magazine in 1998: "I think my personality was helpful in this job. I always had a great sense of humor, though I am also pretty reserved personally. I mean, I don't go to chichi parties; never did. I don't like going to dinners other than small dinners at the homes of people. But I realized that if I was to harness the energies of the people of the city of New York and give them back their pride, I would have to become bigger than life. And I did."

Remembering Ed Koch
Remembering Ed Koch

    JUST WATCHED

    Remembering Ed Koch

MUST WATCH

Remembering Ed Koch 03:58
PLAY VIDEO
Ed Koch: 'God gave me a good hand'
Ed Koch: 'God gave me a good hand'

    JUST WATCHED

    Ed Koch: 'God gave me a good hand'

MUST WATCH

Ed Koch: 'God gave me a good hand' 01:06
PLAY VIDEO
Writer: Koch was New York
Writer: Koch was New York

    JUST WATCHED

    Writer: Koch was New York

MUST WATCH

Writer: Koch was New York 02:25
PLAY VIDEO

Tweeters loved Koch's 'New York-iness'

After he left office, Koch -- whose ebullient personality made him popular nationwide -- practiced law, hosted a radio show, was a newspaper columnist and made countless appearances on TV series as himself. His cameos included "Sex and the City," "Spin City" and "Picket Fences."

For two years starting in 1997, he was the judge on the syndicated show "The People's Court."

He also reviewed movies online at The Mayor at the Movies site (mayorkoch.com).

In his later years, Koch became politically motivated again. In 2011, he grew upset after President Barack Obama called for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, with land swaps, as the basis of a Mideast peace deal.

In his anger, Koch crossed party lines to support Republican Bob Turner in his bid to represent perhaps the most Jewish district in the country, which covers parts of Queens and Brooklyn.

Koch's endorsement was widely seen as a turning point in a race that few expected a Republican to win.

On the day of the special election, Turner won in an upset with 54% of the vote, with Koch standing next to him while he gave his victory speech.

"I like President Obama ... I helped get him elected," Koch said at Turner's election night party. "But he threw Israel under the bus."

But in September 2011, Koch said he was impressed with Obama's handling of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N., where the president expressed support for Israel and called for more negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"I congratulated him on his speech to the United Nations in which he acknowledged Israel's presence in a difficult neighborhood," Koch said, referring to a party he attended that was hosted by Obama and his wife, Michelle, in New York.

Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx on December 12, 1924. The family moved to New Jersey when he was 8. He went to the City College of New York until he was drafted into the Army in 1943. After he left the service as a sergeant in 1946, he studied law at New York University.

He began his public service life as a district leader in Greenwich Village in 1963; he also served on the New York City Council before running for Congress.

Opinion: Koch a friend and force to the end

The New York Times said in a 2011 retrospective that Koch seemed an unlikely candidate for mayor in 1977.

"He was a geeky, relatively obscure congressman, considered too liberal to appeal beyond his Greenwich Village constituency," the Times said on its website.

His campaign manager, David Garth, came up with a slogan that helped Koch beat fellow Democrat Mario Cuomo, who many commentators viewed as the more dynamic character, and Republican Roy Goodman.

''After eight years of charisma and four years of the clubhouse, why not try competence?" was a slogan that spoke to New Yorkers who were disappointed by Koch's predecessors, John Lindsay and Abe Beame.

Koch was a popular mayor -- winning a second term with 75% of the vote and a third with 78% -- but as the Times put it: "With New Yorkers wearying of his in-your-face shtick and seeking a balm to racial polarization, Mr. Koch was defeated for the Democratic nomination by Manhattan Borough President David N. Dinkins."

Before he was defeated by Dinkins, he criticized the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a candidate for president in 1988, and some felt he angered many black voters. Race relations in New York were also fractured at the time, especially after a 1986 incident in Howard Beach when white teenagers attacked three black men, killing one.

Koch's third term was beset by corruption scandals involving his political allies. Koch himself was never directly tied to wrongdoing, but the scandals hurt Koch's image with voters.

Only three New York mayors were ever re-elected twice -- Fiorello LaGuardia and Robert Wagner were the others -- and all three left office, as The New York Times put it in 2008, "drained, diminished and disdained."

Some new Yorkers thought Koch, who published an autobiography in 1984, had lost control of his ego.

Koch even said he lost because "voters got tired of me."

Koch, who never married, was often criticized by playwright, novelist and LGBT rights advocate Larry Kramer for not doing more to stop the spread of AIDS in New York.

"He was a closeted gay man, and he did not want in any way to be associated with this," Kramer declared to New York magazine.

Koch found discussions of his sexuality to be humorous.

"Listen, there's no question that some New Yorkers think I'm gay, and voted for me nevertheless. The vast majority don't care, and others don't think I am. And I don't give a (expletive) either way!" he told New York magazine.

There will be a funeral on Monday.

People we've lost in 2013: The lives they lived

        People we lost in 2013

      • James Avery during 2005 BET Awards - Red Carpet at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)

        Actor James Avery

        Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
      • John Cordice

        Dr. John Cordice

        Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
      • Joseph Ruskin, who acted in 25 films and 124 television shows, died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital Saturday, December 28, according to  SAG-AFTRA. Ruskin was 89.

        Actor Joseph Ruskin

        Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
      • Jeff Pollack

        Producer Jeffrey Ian Pollack

        Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
      • FILE - In this July 26, 2002 file photo, Russian weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov presents his legendary assault rifle to the media while opening the exhibition "Kalashnikov - legend and curse of a weapon" at a weapons museum in Suhl, Germany. Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose work as a weapons designer for the Soviet Union is immortalized in the name of the world's most popular firearm, has died at the age of 94, Monday Dec. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File)

        Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of AK-47

        Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
      • Author Ned Vizzini

        Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
      • single use image -- do not reuse

        Actor Daniel Escobar

        Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
      • Ronnie Biggs poses for a photo

        'Great Train Robber' Ronnie Biggs

        "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
      •  UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Ray Price Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

        Country music pioneer Ray Price

        Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
      • HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 30: Peter O'Toole poses as his hand and footprints are enshrined in concrete at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/PictureGroup)

        Peter O'Toole

        Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
      • Jim Hall performs during the Newport Jazz Festival 2013 at Fort Adams State Park on August 4, 2013.

        Guitarist Jim Hall

        Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
      • (FILE PHOTO) Former South African President Nelson Mandela Has Died LONDON - JUNE 26: Nelson Mandela leaves the InterContinental Hotel after a photoshoot with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neil on June 26, 2008 in London, England. Mandela is in London in advance of the 46664 concert being held at Hyde Park on Friday the 27th June to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

        Nelson Mandela

        Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
      • 'Fast & Furious' star Paul Walker

        Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
      • sot jane kean honymooners larry king live archive 2003_00002127.jpg

        'The Honeymooners' actress Jane Kean

        Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.