His trademark phrase went with him everywhere. He was the steward of the city during some tough times, before it became Wall Street’s darling handmaiden, and the very ground known as Manhattan started burping money out to any developer armed with a backhoe and a variance to build something, anything, anywhere. He was gregarious, controversial, desperate to be liked, a charmer of the press, a cheerleader for the Big Apple, and a dream to cover.
He held the reins of the city back when nobody wanted to know the West Side Story, and for instance, the subways, instead of being the relatively clean, silvery train cars of today, with actual air conditioning in the summer, instead were graffiti laden hot boxes on wheels that jolted along dangerously dark and dank tubes. There was a lot of human theater played out in those cars, and scenes like the ones below occurred on a regular basis.
Subway riders had to negotiate the occasional stiff on the platform as well as late, smelly, overcrowded cars. Truth be told, up above, on the sidewalks, it wasn’t much better.
But, even in the darkest of days, when the till was empty and New York veered towards chaos, Ed was out there, banging the drum, cajoling, cackling, insulting (he could be acid-tongued), desperately trying to wrangle a chorus of huzzahs for the city, and ultimately, for him. If you had an issue with either of those, you got a Bronx cheer. Love him or hate him, he was New York to the core.
I wrote about him in the Moment It Clicks, a story about a fine morning, when it was good to be a photog, and hang with the mayor.
I was assigned to do a very simple picture of the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch. I loved Ed. He loved people, New York and the camera. He’s got a rubber face and a winning smile. He’s also a good guy, plain and simple.
The job was one of those rare easy ones. It was a story about Gracie Mansion, the official home of the mayor of New York. The magazine wanted me to re-create an old picture of legendary NY mayor Fiorella LaGuardia on the lawn in front of the house. It had to be shot in early morning, and Ed had to stand in the same spot as LaGuardia. We were blessed with good light.
The picture took minutes, and Ed said his thank yous and goodbyes. While we were packing up, he came back out on the porch, and called to us. “Would any of you like some blueberry pie?”
It took about a half a second to say yes. Next thing we know, we’re in the kitchen, having coffee and pie with the mayor of NY.
How cool is that? I mean, who the hell else gets to do this stuff? Savor those mornings, when the light is clear and the picture effortless, and we are breathing the air and we are in the world, not a fluorescent lit cubicle, staring at a parade of meaningless numbers race across a screen. We’re photographers, and everybody else wants to be us.
Rest in peace, Ed. More tk…..