In this Sept. 11, 1985 file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch raises his arms in victory at the Sheraton Centre in New York after winning the Democratic primary in his bid for a third four-year term. / Mario Suriani, AP
NEW YORK - To the very end, Ed Koch's timing was perfect.
The man who became mayor of New York when the city had hit bottom and had only one way to go - up - died on the day a documentary about his life premiered in theaters.
"Do you remember me?'' he's shown asking in the film, Koch, while campaigning for a state assembly candidate three years ago.
How could we forget him?
More than two decades out of office and often in the hospital, Koch was still such a fixture of life here that it seemed he'd always be around, offering his opinions on everything from presidential candidates to Italian restaurants.
Hours before his death, New York magazine's website still was chiding CNN for implying Koch was moribund, and telling the network not to write the former mayor's obit just because he was in the intensive care unit.
Koch entered City Hall when New York was down. As much as anyone else, he helped lift it up.
That was 1978. New York City was edging back from municipal bankruptcy after years of spending money it didn't have, as if it were a sovereign nation. That summer, the Son of Sam serial murders had the city on edge, and a blackout had loosed rioting that seemed to foreshadow urban dystopia.
There wasn't enough money for cops or other services, not enough even to keep the bridges in good repair. When a subway train ran over the Manhattan Bridge, the span swayed like an amusement park ride. The cables on the Williamsburg Bridge were slowly rotting.
People were moving out of New York, especially the white middle class. No one else wanted to move in, except immigrants with no other choice.
Koch would have none of it. He presided over an era of austerity with unparalleled ebullience. He was glad to be here, and you should be, too, if for no other reason than the Chinese food.
He had started out as a member of the reform Democratic organization in Greenwich Village, where he helped vanquish the vestiges of the city's infamous Tammany Hall political machine. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1968, and emerged victorious in the mayoral election of 1977 from a field of candidates that included incumbent Abe Beam, floppy-hatted Congresswoman Bella Abzug and the future governor, Mario Cuomo.
He cut spending, even closed a hospital in Harlem. But his greatest victory may have come during the 10-day subway strike of 1980, when he came to personify New Yorkers' ability to survive almost anything and advance.
One day at the Brooklyn Bridge, he spontaneously began yelling encouragement to commuters who now had to walk to work. "I began to yell, 'Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We're not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!' '' he recalled last year.
New York will remember him for that, and for his thumbs up sign that echoed Winston Churchill's V-sign, and for always asking, "How'm I doin?'' It was a question for which Koch, so confident, never needed to hear the answer.
He was both cheerleader for, and symbol of, New York's renaissance after the fiscal crisis. He appeared on the covers of Time and Business Week magazines, telling the latter that New York was again the world's "capital of capital.'' As manufacturing jobs continued to leave the city, this role - a sort of global front office - became increasingly crucial to New York's economy.
On the ground, however, things in some ways got worse. Koch's three terms were marked by a series of violent racial conflicts, some involving the police, that undermined the city's reputation for tolerance. Koch himself, although by reputation a liberal Democrat, was blamed for insensitivity.
There was also an explosion in homelessness and a whole new urban plague - AIDS, which savaged the city's gay and creative communities. A burgeoning, unstable crack cocaine market produced a slew of murders every night.
A scandal in the Parking Violations Bureau led to the suicide of Queens Borough President Donald Manes, a Koch ally, and sullied the mayor's reputation as a good government reformer.
Koch addressed all these problems, but sometimes seemed to regard them as part of New York life, like noise and congestion. In this, he will always stand in contrast to his successors, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, who transformed the city into one of the nation's most livable by taking on street crime and trying to improve the quality of life.
After City Hall, Koch returned to his beloved two-bedroom apartment in the Village. He became the voice of the city's outer-borough Jewish voters, nominally Democrats but increasingly conservative. He supported George W. Bush for re-election in 2004, and spoke at the Republican convention. He endorsed Bloomberg's re-election when Bloomberg was still a Republican.
He pretty much said what he thought. If he didn't like a policy, he'd say, "That's craaaazy!'' sounding like a TV pitchman. He called Donald Trump "piggy," and wrote a book about Giuliani entitled, Nasty Man.
He was coy only about his sexuality. Although he used his friendship with former Miss America Bess Myerson to get elected, he never married or seemed to have an intimate relationship. Asked if he was gay, he said it was nobody else's business.
Five years ago. the son of immigrant Polish Jews bought a burial plot for $20,000 in the cemetery of Trinity Church, an emblem of Wall Street and temple of Anglicanism in America. He said it was the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space.
"I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone," Koch, who was raised in Newark, told the Associated Press. "This is my home.''
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Read the original story: Ed Koch was a cheerleader, fixture for the city he loved