Saturday, February 02, 2013

Ed Koch, 1924-2013

Ed Koch, after his primary election victory in 1985
I disliked most of his policies as Mayor, but I have to thank Ed Koch, who died early yesterday at the age of 88. He taught me a crucial early lesson about being a reporter.

In 1985, in my first full-time newspaper job, I was covering several neighborhoods for a weekly Brooklyn tabloid called The Phoenix. Since no one else on the staff had an interest, my beat also included the massive subsidized real estate deals that were being planned for the borough. So, when the Mayor announced the first new office project in downtown Brooklyn in decades, I left the tilted second floor room above Atlantic Avenue that served as our newsroom to attend my first City Hall press event.

I sat on the side and out popped Hizzonor. As Koch spoke, I flipped through the press release his staff had handed out. I made some quick calculations in the margin and discovered that the value of the government subsidies allocated to the building amounted to more than the cost of building it. So I tentatively stuck up my hand.

He called on everyone in the room before he deigned to recognize me. "Mr Mayor," I said when he finally nodded my way, "I've added up the numbers in your press release and from what I can tell, this building is 110 percent financed by the state and the city. So my question to you, Your Honor, is this: how much money is the developer putting into the building?"

Koch peered at me as if from a great distance. Then he spoke in three choppy bursts: "Where? Are You? From?"

All these years later, I still recall the cold sweat I felt as I gave my name and affiliation. It was a humbling yet valuable experience. Ed Koch taught me to ask my questions despite my fears.

Thanks, Mr. Mayor.