Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City from 1978-1989 who was known during his time in office and afterward as a charismatic and outspoken Jewish political personality, died of heart failure Friday at 88.
Koch also served in the House of Representatives from 1969-1977, and after his political career was a television judge on The People’s Court from 1997-1999.
The importance of Jewish identity to Koch was evidenced by the inscription on the memorial stone at the burial plot in Manhattan’s non-denominational Trinity Cemetery which he bought in 2008: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.” Those were the last words of Jewish Wall Street Journal bureau chief Daniel Pearl before he was killed by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2002. Koch’s epitaph also says, “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith.”
“Koch was a consummate and proud Jewish Democrat who advocated fiercely for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the progressive domestic policies in which he truly believed,” the National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement Friday. “Koch’s leadership was vital in mobilizing Jewish voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and our community will not be the same without his prominent voice. Koch leaves behind an indelible legacy of public service and activism that has made our country a better place and strengthened America’s relationship with the Jewish State. His voice and his energy will truly be missed.”
Koch remained a vocal political commentator until his death, and in recent years vacillated on his support of President Barack Obama. In 2011, he supported Republican (and eventual winner) U.S. Rep. Bob Turner over Democrat David Weprin for Anthony Weiner’s former seat in New York’s Ninth Congressional District. He told JNS.org at the time that he endorsed Turner “to send a message to President Obama” regarding Obama’s actions such as calling for Israel to agree to pre-1967 borders with Palestinians. But Koch expressed support for Obama in the same interview, regarding the president’s words a day earlier at the United Nations General Assembly.
“Either [Obama] didn’t need the message or he got the message, because I thought that his speech at the United Nations was superb yesterday and met all of my expectations,” Koch said.
Koch went on to endorse Obama in the 2012 election despite his previous criticism of the president’s Middle East policies. “Whatever rift existed before—and there was—that’s gone,” he told the New York Times.
But Koch’s tune changed again in late 2012, when he was fiercely critical of Obama’s rumored nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, telling The Algemeiner that Hagel “would be a terrible appointment” because it would convey the message to the Arab world that Obama is seeking “to put space between Israel and his administration.” Koch slammed the president even harder when the Hagel nomination materialized.
“Frankly, I thought that there would come a time when [Obama] would renege on what he conveyed on his support of Israel,” he told The Algemeiner this January.