How'm I doing? Just fine, says Citizen KochLARRY MCSHANE , Associated Press
Mar. 17, 1997 1:20 AM ET
NEW YORK (AP) _ Eight years ago, New York City's voters delivered a harsh goodbye to Edward I. Koch. Soundly whipped in the Democratic primary, the soon-to-be ex-mayor _ and does this really surprise anybody? _ did not go quietly.
Oh, he held his tongue for six months after leaving office, cutting himself (and his successor) a brief break. But Citizen Koch, clearly enjoying the last laugh, is once again as prominent as the New York skyline _ and he's visible rain or shine.
``Back in my salad days, I told people, `Go ahead, don't vote for me. I'll get a better job, but you won't get a better mayor,''' Koch said, during a break at his Rockefeller Center law office. ``I think I was right on both counts.''
How's he doing? Very well, thank you _ better financially than he did in a dozen years at City Hall, where he earned a top salary of $130,000 while wrestling with the City Council, the media, the budget.
What's he doing? Just about everything.
There's Ed Koch, newspaper columnist. Ed Koch, radio host. Ed Koch, the next Judge Wapner. He's an author, an actor, a pitchman, a personality. Politics? He's a commentator. Any questions? Koch is equally adept as interviewer and interviewee.
This cult of Koch seemed improbable eight years ago, when the once-invincible mayor was driven from City Hall by a relatively obscure ex-city clerk, David Dinkins.
But America's most recognizable mayor was done in by a final term troubled by corruption scandals, the AIDS epidemic and racial unrest. After 12 years in office, Ed Koch lost his last race for the office he'd always coveted.
Rarely were a man and his job so publicly identified as this mayor and the mayoralty. Was this the end of the line? Would there be no more ``Tonight Show'' visits, Muppet movies? Was he condemned to the low-profile life of his predecessor, the invisible Abe Beame?
No. No. Most definitely, no.
As Dinkins was installed as the city's first black mayor, Koch began hearing the words of another black leader: the late Dr. Martin Luther King.
``All I could think of was, `Free at least, free at least, great God almighty, I'm free at last,''' Koch recalled, his familiar cackle rising. ``An enormous burden was lifted from my shoulders.''
The ex-mayor quickly discovered something else. It was ``much more fun,'' he reflected, ``to be a critic than a victim.''
Eight years later, his distinctive nasal (and often critical) voice is more prevalent than ever.
He writes a weekly column for the New York Post, and hosts a five-day-a-week radio show. He's now written six political books and three mystery novels (``Murder on Broadway'' was the latest.)
The ex-mayor averaged 2.73 mentions per week in The New York Times last year. Gossip columnists chronicle his comings and goings, noting recent meals at the Candy Bar and the Water Club.
Koch recently joined Fred, Dunkin' Donuts' signature commercial character, to pitch bagels. Advertising executive Ron Berger gushed that the ex-mayor was ``the quintessential New York maven of bagels.''
Koch agrees, and considers himself expert on a number of subjects: movies (he does weekly reviews), international affairs (editorials for a cable business channel), City Hall (thumbs down on Mayor Rudolph Giuliani).
His tongue _ as mayor, Koch routinely flayed his enemies as ``wackos'' _ remains cutting and is quickly unsheathed.
``People instinctively don't trust Rudy,'' Koch said of the current mayor, an ex-ally. ``They recognize he's mean-spirited.''
Want more? Koch, in print and on the air, has derided Giuliani as ``out of control,'' possessing ``very little common sense'' and demonstrating ``a behavioral problem.''
Surveying candidates at a recent Democratic debate, Koch cracked, ``I'm not suggesting I would have been much better than they were. I KNOW I would have been much better.''
Koch's latest venture is perfect for a man who loves getting the last word. The ex-mayor has signed on as Judge Joseph Wapner's successor in a revival of ``The People's Court.''
Is Koch qualified? Just ask him.
``Two things: I appointed over 140 judges as mayor,'' Koch offered. ``Secondly, after I became a lawyer in 1949, I volunteered to be an arbitrator in Small Claims Court.''
``Back then I did it for free.''
Koch keeps to the same schedule he did as mayor, getting up before the sun and going to sleep around midnight. He warns critics that he expects to live to age 87, the same age as his father. And his plate's not even full, Koch says.
``I still have some openings,'' he said, ``on Thursday afternoon.''