He was the mayor from the time I was 18 until I was 29. With the exception of a few years spent away at college and in North Carolina as a DJ, early in his first term, I witnessed his entire reign. He ushered The City back from the brink of financial ruin by cutting spending, cutting services and raising taxes. He presided over a police force that had gone mad that murdered an old woman in her apartment. The City was racially and economically divided during his tenure, and it was then that I first became aware of a neighborhood called Howard Beach.
Crack, AIDS, homelessness and unemployment were rampant. He closed a hospital in Harlem that not only served the area but was one of the only places where black doctors could find consistent employment. A parking ticket scandal marred his last days in office, caused one of his commissioners to commit suicide and opened his administration to a corruption investigation that touched everything in its wake.
But something else went on while he was Mayor, Hip Hop emerged as both a voice of the voiceless and an economic power tool for the powerless. Club life and creativity flourished and a golden age in art, music, fashion and design coincided with his era. Artists flocked from everywhere to the Apple. Empires were built, and great cultural figures made their mark.
Later, after he left office, the building that I worked in housed a law firm where he practiced. When I saw him in the lobby, in a neighborhood restaurant or in the elevator, I never spoke. But he did embody a combative, hustling New York that formed me and many of my lifelong friends, and oddly when I read his obit in today’s Times, I shed a tear. Ed Koch reminds me of the way it used to be and the city I loved dearly. He was part of the old ways of tribal and neighborhood rule. He ran a wide-open town where you could get things done. He represented a time before the corporations moved in, the town squared up and money was all that mattered. In the end, he was something that I will always find to be complimentary, he was a New Yorker.