Edward I. Koch, the master showman of City Hall, who 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, died Friday morning.
Mr. Koch’s spokesman, George Arzt, said the former mayor died at 2 a.m. from congestive heart failure. He was being treated at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital.
Mr. Koch had experienced coronary and other medical problems since leaving office in 1989. But he had been in relatively good health despite — or perhaps because of — his whirlwind life as a television judge, radio talk-show host, author, law partner, newspaper columnist, movie reviewer, professor, commercial pitchman and political gadfly.
Ebullient, flitting from broadcast studios to luncheon meetings and speaking engagements, popping up at show openings and news conferences, wherever the microphones were live and the cameras rolling, Mr. Koch, in his life after politics, seemed for all the world like the old campaigner, running flat out.
Only his bouts of illness slowed Mr. Koch down, most recently forcing him to miss the premiere of “Koch,” a documentary biographical film that opens on Friday in theaters nationwide.
His 12-year mayoralty encompassed the fiscal austerity of the late 1970s and the racial conflicts and municipal corruption scandals of the 1980s, an era of almost continuous discord that found Mr. Koch at the vortex of a maelstrom day after day. But out among the people or facing a news media circus in the Blue Room at City Hall, he was a feisty, slippery egoist who could not be pinned down by questioners and who could outtalk anybody in the authentic voice of New York: as opinionated as a Flatbush cabby, as loud as the scrums on 42nd Street, as pugnacious as a West Side reform Democrat mother.
“I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers,” the mayor — eyebrows devilishly up, grinning wickedly at his own wit — enlightened the reporters at his $475 rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village onInauguration Day in 1978. “Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.”
(Undated photo of Ed Koch riding the subway by Chester Higgins Jr. / NYT)