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 at age 88.
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’s 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 on Inauguration Day in 1978. “Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.”
His political odyssey took him from independent-minded liberal to pragmatic conservative, from street-corner hustings with a little band of reform Democrats in Greenwich Village to the pinnacle of power as New York City’s 105th mayor from Jan. 1, 1978, to Dec. 31, 1989. Along the way, he ousted the Tammany boss Carmine G. De Sapio and served two years as a councilman and nine more in Congress representing, with distinction, the East Side of Manhattan.
With his trademark — “How’m I doin?” — Mr. Koch stood at subway entrances on countless mornings wringing the hands and votes of constituents, who elected him 21 times in 26 years, with only three defeats: a forgettable 1962 State Assembly race; a memorable 1982 primary in a race for governor won by Mario M. Cuomo; and a last Koch hurrah, a Democratic primary in 1989 won by David N. Dinkins, who would be his one-term successor.
I always liked Koch, for exactly the reasons stated in the article: he was a hard talking man with a heart. Maybe not a perfect man, but a fine one, for sure. RIP, Mayor.