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Ed Koch, Flamboyant Former New York City Mayor, Dies

Posted: February 1, 2013

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The three-term former mayor, who led the city out of its financial crisis in the late '70s, was 88. Known for asking "hey, how'm I doing?" he was sometimes too candid for his own political good. But when the city needed a lift, he was everywhere. He thought it needed a big personality — his.

New York City Mayor Edward Koch in February 1980.

New York City Mayor Edward Koch in February 1980.

Ed Koch, the colorful three-term mayor who led New York City through its financial crisis in the '70s, has died.

George Arzt, a spokesman for the former mayor, tells NPR's Joel Rose that Koch died of congestive heart failure around 2 a.m. ET Friday. The former mayor was 88.

As Joel writes, Koch's "larger-than-life personality was well-suited to the nation's biggest city but could also get him in trouble." The Democratic mayor, says Joel:

"Was famous for asking his constituents this question: 'Hey! How'm I doing?' He insisted this was more than just shtick. He told NPR in 1981 that he really wanted to know. 'Some people have said that's a mark of insecurity. Gee, I have to be patted on the back, how'm I doing,' he said. 'I want you to think about this: Do you know people in public life who are sufficiently secure to ask people to rate them?' "

"[But] Koch's mouth finally cost him his job as mayor. His relationship with African-American voters — never great to begin with — soured for good when he suggested that Jews would be 'crazy' to vote for Jesse Jackson in 1988. The next year, Koch lost the Democratic primary to David Dinkins, who went on to be the city's first African-American mayor. Koch never ran for office again, but he never left the public eye, either.

"He did a stint behind the bench on the People's Court; he hosted a popular talk radio show; and he stayed active in politics, endorsing causes and candidates he favored, with little regard for party affiliation."

The New York Times leads its obituary by saying that Koch "parlayed shrewd political instincts and plenty of chutzpah into three tumultuous terms as mayor of New York with all the tenacity, zest and combativeness that personified his city of golden dreams."

And our colleague Jim O'Grady at WNYC writes that Koch:

"Decided that what the city needed was a leader with an active will and gigantic personality. Specifically, his. You'd see him everywhere: On TV and at community meetings, astride the Brooklyn Bridge with the commuting masses during a transit strike and throwing out the first ball at Shea Stadium, to mingled cheers and boos. His nasal hectoring and pressed-forward posture became the sound and style of the city during the 12 years of his three terms in office. On his watch, the budgetary bleeding was stanched and the municipal books were balanced. And New York City began to show faint glimmers of recovery."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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