Former New York Mayor Ed Koch dead at 88

NEW YORK Ed Koch, the ebullient former congressman and three-term Democratic mayor of New York City credited with correcting the city's sinking finances in the 1980s, has died at the age of 88.

Koch spokesman George Arzt confirmed to CBS News that the former mayor died Friday morning of congestive heart failure.

Koch was born in the Bronx in 1924, and his family moved to Newark, N.J., before settling in Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, when he was a teenager. He studied at City College before being drafted into the Army as an infantryman during World War II, serving from 1943 to 1946, and achieving the rank of sergeant.

After the war, Koch became a lawyer and later entered politics as the district leader of Greenwich Village in 1963. In 1969, he was elected as a Democrat-Liberal to the U.S. House of Representatives, eventually serving four terms. While a congressman, he became known for championing social causes.

In 1977, Koch ran for mayor of New York City for the first time, beating in the general election Mario Cuomo, who later became governor of New York. When Koch took over the mayoralty, New York City was suffering from a terrible fiscal crisis, out-of-control crime, and general decay.

Koch brought what some described as a cult of personality to the situation. Former Daily News editor Michael Goodwin told the Gotham Gazette: "Mayor Koch was so in your face for so long that a whole generation of children grew up thinking 'Mayor' was his first name."

With his forceful personality and budget-cutting measures, Koch not only restored the city's terrible credit in his first term and eventually doubled the city's budget to $26 billion, he also improved what many saw as tanking morale amongst its citizens.

Journalist Pete Hamill said of the situation: "When Ed Koch took office on the first of January 1978 there were neither parades, rallies, preparations for bonfires nor any sense of celebration. The fact was that we had gone through such a terrible time there was no reason to celebrate."

Many say Koch turned that city-wide negative feeling around, and while doing so he became known for greeting New Yorkers with his catchphrase: "How'm I doin'?"

While the Koch administration got much credit for righting a sinking ship, it also became tainted by a series of corruption scandals and combative dealings with other politicians and officials, all of which eventually cost him his bid for a fourth term as mayor in 1989, when he lost to David Dinkins.

After leaving the mayor's office, Koch remained in the public eye as a practicing lawyer, lecturer, television personality, newspaper columnist, radio host and author.

Koch was a lifelong bachelor. On the question of his sexuality, he said in a 1998 piece that ran in New York magazine: "Listen, there's no question that some New Yorkers think I'm gay, and voted for me nevertheless. The vast majority don't care, and others don't think I am. And I don't give a [expletive] either way! What do I care? I'm 73 years old. I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It's rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply [expletive] off. There have to be some private matters left."

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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