The New York City that Mayor Ed Koch inherited in 1978 is almost unimaginable today: graffiti-filled subways; miles of abandoned buildings; filthy streets that were unsafe to walk in daylight, much less at night; and a municipal government that had stopped functioning.
Ed was a savior for a city in desperate need of one. Through his determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, he helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback. And no mayor has ever embodied the spirit of New York like Ed: brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah. When we were down, he picked us up. When we were worried, he gave us confidence. When someone needed a good kick in the rear, he gave it to them. (And he enjoyed it.)
While Ed was mayor, his outsize personality was matched by his integrity, intelligence and independence. And even after leaving office, he remained New York’s most tireless and guileless civic crusader. I will always remember the advice Ed gave me when I was first running for mayor: “Be yourself. Say what you believe. And don’t worry about what people think!” He understood that if you do what you believe is right, the people–even if they don’t always agree with you–will respect you. He used to say, “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”
Ed Koch, who was 88 when he died on Feb. 1, was one of the greatest mayors in New York City’s long history, and his inspired public service forever changed the course of our future.
Bloomberg is mayor of New York City
This text originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of TIME magazine.
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