One of my favorite assignments when I was a reporter at The New York Daily News was working inside the legendary Room 9 during Ed Koch’s third term in the late 1980s. Every day, I went to work inside City Hall so I got to see Koch work and carry-on first-hand. No doubt, he was one of a kind and a great friend to the press simply because he was so quotable and seemed to have no filters.
And his cadence was uniquely New York. He could call someone an asshole just by the way he answered a question. Oh how Koch loved the press! Most days, as he was heading out the door to some event or lunch at the Bridge Cafe, he would hold a ‘radiator’ which meant he would take a few questions from us at the round radiators in the City Hall lobby.
Those were the days when the press corps would follow Koch everywhere in the United States because no one knew what he would say. One time, I took a ‘day trip’ with him to Salt Lake City. I kid you not — we went there and back the same day. The guy loved New York so much that he never wanted to sleep anywhere else.
Unlike Mayor Bloomberg, who does not live at Gracie Mansion, Koch reveled in making the mansion his home, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a couple of Christmas dinners there. It was so cool to be inside a huge house like that on the banks of the East River. And Koch opened up the whole house to us. I remember wandering up to take a look at his bedroom. (Somewhere I have a photo from that night that I hope to unearth later today.)
But what I loved about Koch is that he kept his rent-stabilized apartment throughout this three terms like any good New Yorker would. He did later move but refused to give it up while he was mayor.
My favorite story about Koch happened when I was a reporter inside City Hall. There was a downstairs bathroom and, one day when I went down there, I noticed a dumpster full of what appeared to be official city memos that had been thrown out. None of them were shredded or redacted. I grabbed a handful and began reading and every time I went to the bathroom, I would grab a new handful. The dumpster was there every day.
I got loads of stories from that dumpster and never even had to dive in. The best memo I ever found was written by Koch to a city commissioner. Koch eviscerated the guy in black and white, accusing him of fake tears (the official had cried in public) and so thoroughly blasting the guy that the memo was a big fat ‘Fuck You.’ The only thing Koch didn’t do was fire the poor schmuck.
That Sunday, I had a front page story in The News; the headline was something about Koch taking this commissioner out to the woodshed. Did he ever? Koch and his press secretary back then — Lee Jones — were apoplectic. Where had I gotten this memo? Who gave it me?
You could tell they wanted someone’s head on a pike! Of course, I never told them but I guess it’s safe to reveal this now. So long Ed Koch, we’ll all miss you.