By COLlive reporter
Photos courtesy of Lubavitch Archives and JEM
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, whom the AP said embodied New York chutzpah for the rest of the world and saved the city from near-financial ruin, died Friday, February 1, 2013.
He was 88.
During his 3-term run, from 1978-89, the city climbed out of near-financial ruin thanks to Koch’s tough fiscal policies and razor-sharp budget cuts, and subway service improved enormously, the news agency said.
But homelessness and AIDS soared through the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall’s responses were too little, too late, the report said. His third term was beset by corruption scandals by city officials.
Born in the Bronx, his parents were Yetta and Louis Koch, Jewish immigrants from Poland who lived as Conservative Jews who resided in Newark, New Jersey. During World War II he was drafted into the United States Army where he served as an infantryman in Cherbourg, France in September 1944, earning two Battle Stars.
For Koch, one of the most important national issues is the country’s relationship with Israel, Politicker said. In an interview with the paper two weeks before his death, Koch described his backing of Israel as stemming from a desire to see his fellow Jews protected.
“It’s so important that there be a secure Israel that can accept them and give them sanctuary. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again. Regrettably, Israel didn’t exist when the Nazis were in power, because Hitler offered to let the German Jews go if there was a country that would take them. No country would take them,” he said.
But in the Crown Heights Jewish community, home to Lubavitch World Headquarters, Koch will also be remembered for his rocky relationship with its leadership and the Rebbe himself.
Unlike his predecessor Abe Beam who kept a warm friendship with 770, the outspoken Koch, whose social views often conflicted with halacha, was in touch when it was politically convenient.
He famously removed the police escort stations at the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s home on President Street, saying the Rebbe was a common citizen, infuriating the chassidim.
Many Lubavitchers also don’t forgive him for retelling an encounter with the Rebbe in one of his books in a dismissive and negative light.
One Crown Heights activist who was involved in community affairs at the time refused to comment about Koch on Friday. “I don’t want to talk about him,” he told COLlive.com.
Koch visited the Rebbe on 26 Av, 5749 (1989) when he was running for a fourth term. The exchange was honorable but the Rebbe did not give him the endorsement he came for. Koch lost the election to David Dinkins.
At age 83, Koch paid $20,000 for a burial plot at Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space, saying he didn’t want “to leave Manhattan.”
Not long after buying the plot, he had his tombstone inscribed and installed. It reads, “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.”
The marker also features the last words of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” The Algemeiner newspaper pointed out that February 1 was the same day Pearl was murdered 11 years earlier.
Koch never married and didn’t leave after himself any offspring.