Ed Koch: abrasive, funny, inspirational, Mayor of New York 1978-1989. Friday morning, he passed away. His passing can mean little to many of us in Camden; but to us former New Yorkers, especially those of us who worked to alleviate the financial crisis and the deterioration of life in New York, it is a time for us to remember and honor him. I hope you will share this remembrance with me.
At a time when almost no one in America had any confidence or belief in New York City and even most New Yorkers were doubting themselves, Ed Koch let us on the path to restoration and victory. He was certainly not alone in this. Donald Trump, son of the Queens developer, decided to take his father's money and invest it in the heart of New York, building the Trump Tower, the magnificent, powerful, building at the heart of the Manhattan. Everyone thought it was folly. Harry Helmsley, a longtime developer in New York City, gold leafed the tower at the very center of Park Avenue. It stirred the hearts of New Yorkers every time we saw it. Annie, the Broadway musical of believing in tomorrow, opened in New York to sellout crowds.
But most of all, Ed Koch arrived on the scene. Becoming mayor in 1978, he began what seemed the almost impossible task of restoring that city to great glory. He brought the very powerful New York City labor unions together to use the wealth of their pension funds to stabilize and restore the financial health of the city. He persuaded business leaders to keep jobs in Manhattan when they had been fleeing the city at an alarming rate. He started the almost impossible task of restoring the subway system, so critical to the financial and cultural health of the city.
Most of all, he gave us hope and that wonderful biting humor that is the essence of a New Yorker. He made us laugh. (“Don’t Even THINK About Parking Here”) How can you believe you're failing when you're laughing? His willingness to stand proud for New York and to bring such diverse sides together to save her, is an example to us all. While he has been out of the national limelight for many years, let us pause to remember the man who inspired so many to save The City of New York.
(Ann Hagan is a former resident of New York City where she was managing director, public finance for Merrill Lynch and Co. She currently resides in Camden, S.C.)