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.


BC_BKLYN said...

100 years of subsidies. It all appeared so corrupt and class-based. Where are those subsidies now I wonder?
I never spoke with Koch but I did witness his denounciation of Connie Flynn to a tv news crew. I was surprised he knew her name. This was after a particularly absurd meeting about Times Square development at Town Hall; a meeting packed with on-the-clock construction workers just exercising their freedom of expression.

rn said...

BC_B....I've seen nothing to suggest that Koch was personally corrupt. But he sure was class-biased.

Everything political was personal for the man, which is why he felt no compunction about denouncing a gentle soul like Connie. But, as you point out, he knew her name.

I got hit with a bit of his gall when I was working for Gabe Pressman and Koch was running for a fourth term. I did the research for a series on the wealth and investments of all the Mayoral candidates and found that Koch owned stock in companies doing business in South Africa, which was against the city's divestment policy. Our report forced the Mayor to sell these holdings. Though he made a significant profit, it was a political embarrassment because he was running against David Dinkins. In response to our story, his office released a snarling statement accusing me of shoddy research.