My favorite story about former New York City mayor Ed Koch—who passed on the other day at the age of 88—is one he used to tell about himself. He enjoyed telling stories about himself, of-course. This story involves a boating operation called the Circle Line, which ferries tourists around the entire island of Manhattan, up the East River and across the Harlem River and down the Hudson, with a tour guide pointing out the sights. As it chugs up that part of the East River adjacent to 88th Street, the tour guide would naturally point out the graceful old mansion situated there, which happens to be named Gracie Mansion. It is the official residence of whoever is the mayor of New York (although our current monarch, Mr. Bloomberg, chooses to stay in his own fancier digs on 79th Street).
As I recall hizzoner Mayor Koch telling it, he would enjoy going outside of the residence sometimes and looking for the Circle Line ferry approaching; as it passed, he would wave wildly and yell something like, “Here I am! It’s me! Here I am!”
The story is especially funny, I think, because it is so very easy to picture him doing this.
In a certain way this story just sums him up. He was an egomaniac, as are all politicians to one degree or another, but at the same time he wasn’t afraid of looking ridiculous if it served his purpose. He was fearless in his brashness.
He had a vast appetite for life, especially when it involved him offering his opinion on something (anything), keeping up a pace of activities into his eighties that would shame most thirty-year-olds. He remained an intensely political animal right up until the end, taking sides and playing the angles, and like all such political animals his record was decidedly mixed. As mayor, he saved New York City from bankruptcy, but failed to save the city from a debilitating crime rate. Rudy Giuliani later did that, and it always seemed to this observer that Koch could never quite forgive Rudy for this success. Egomania. Only my opinion, mind you.
A few years ago, after an illness and cognizant of death’s approach, Koch told an interviewer, “At 85, I know it’s just a few years away, but I don’t fear it. I believe in the after-life, I believe in reward and punishment; and I hope I’ll be rewarded.” You can well imagine him approaching the pearly gates and yelling much the same words he launched at those Circle Line boats.
At any rate, I think he is sure to garner at least a few points with the powers-that-be up above thanks to the priorities he had outlined in advance on his grave stone.
Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.