Ed Koch, Larger-than-life Mayor of New York, Dies at 88

Famous for greeting constituents with 'How'm I doing?,' the Jewish mayor presided over some of the city's most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

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Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats alike, has died.

Koch, 88, died early Friday morning of congestive heart failure, his spokesman told The New York Times. He had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks to drain fluid from his lungs.

Famous for greeting constituents with "How'm I doing?," the Jewish mayor presided over some of the city's most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

Koch's third term was mired by corruption scandals and burgeoning racial tensions, and after losing his bid for election to a fourth term in 1989, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish yoda, blessing or cursing political penitents as he saw fit, and not always hewing to the prescripts of his Democratic Party.

In 1990, on a visit to Jerusalem during the first Palestinian intifada, Koch was struck by a rock in the head. He was barely nicked, mopping up his wound with a handkerchief, but the incident became one of Koch's proudest moments, he often said. "I shed a little blood for the people of Israel," Koch would recall.

Koch never met a solicitation for an opinion that he didn't like.

He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful 1993 bid to defeat David Dinkins, who had defeated Koch four years earlier, and went on to share -- and sometimes take over -- the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D'Amato and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He stumped hard for George W. Bush's presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel's back, according to Koch.

Four years later, Republicans hoped to win a repeat endorsement for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Koch, alarmed at what he saw as Republican plans to degrade the social safety net he had championed as a congressman in the 1970s, instead threw in with Barack Obama. He proceeded to become one of Obama's biggest Jewish headaches, lacerating the president with criticism for his perceived coolness to Israel.

"I weep as I witness outrageous verbal attacks on Israel," he wrote on the Huffington Post in April 2010. "What makes these verbal assaults and distortions all the more painful is that they are being orchestrated by President Obama."

In 2011, Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner for a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat in New York in what was seen as a safe Democratic district, even though the Democratic contender, David Weprin, was both Jewish and stridently pro-Israel. Turner won and, message sent, Koch watched Obama retreat from criticism of Israel's settlement policies -- and did not hesitate to claim credit for the conversion.

"I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast," Koch wrote supporters in an email after that election.

Koch turned away Republican pleas to re-up his attacks on Obama before the last election, and enjoyed telling friends that he had received a please from no less than Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who made the president's unseating his mission.

Koch instead enthusiastically endorsed Obama in a long video just before the election -- an appearance Jewish Democrats credit with upping Obama's Jewish numbers in Florida, a critical swing state.

In this Sept. 11, 1985 file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch raises his arms in victory at the Sheraton Centre in New York after winning the Democratic primary in his bid for a third four-year term.Credit: AP

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