Ed Koch, Mayor Who Became a Symbol of NYC, Dies

In this photo from March 23, 2010, former New York Mayor Ed Koch speaks during a publicity event in New York.
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By DEEPTI HAJELA, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Ed Koch's favorite moment as mayor of New York City, fittingly, involved yelling.

Suddenly inspired to do something brash about the rare transit strike that crippled the city in 1980, he strode down to the Brooklyn Bridge to encourage commuters who were forced to walk to work instead of jumping aboard subway trains and buses.

"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!' And people began to applaud," the famously combative, acid-tongued politician recalled at a 2012 forum.

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His success in rallying New Yorkers in the face of the strike was, he said, his biggest personal achievement as mayor. And it was a display that was quintessentially Koch, who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during a three-term City Hall run in which he embodied New York chutzpah for the rest of the world.

Koch died at 2 a.m. Friday from congestive heart failure, spokesman George Arzt said. The funeral will be Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

Koch was admitted to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital on Monday with shortness of breath, and was moved to intensive care on Thursday for closer monitoring of the fluid in his lungs and legs. He had been released two days earlier after being treated for water in his lungs and legs. He had initially been admitted on Jan. 19.

[PHOTOS: The Life of Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch.]

After leaving City Hall in January 1990, Koch battled assorted health problems and heart disease.

The larger-than-life Koch, who breezed through the streets of New York flashing his signature thumbs-up sign, won a national reputation with his feisty style. "How'm I doing?" was his trademark question to constituents, although the answer mattered little to Koch. The mayor always thought he was doing wonderfully.

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Former Mayor David Dinkins, who succeeded Koch, called the former mayor "a feisty guy who would tell you what he thinks."

"Ed was a guy to whom I could turn if I wanted a straight answer," he told on Fox 5 News Friday.

Bald and bombastic, paunchy and pretentious, the city's 105th mayor was quick with a friendly quip and equally fast with a cutting remark for his political enemies.

"You punch me, I punch back," Koch once memorably observed. "I do not believe it's good for one's self-respect to be a punching bag."

Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said in a statement Friday that although they disagreed on many things, Koch "was never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said. He fought for what he believed. May he rest in peace."

The mayor dismissed his critics as "wackos," waged verbal war with developer Donald Trump ("piggy") and mayoral successor Rudolph Giuliani ("nasty man"), lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.

"I'm not the type to get ulcers," he wrote in "Mayor," his autobiography. "I give them."

When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Democrat Koch crossed party lines to support him and spoke at the GOP convention. He also endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election efforts at a time when Bloomberg was a Republican. Koch described himself as "a liberal with sanity."

In a statement Bloomberg said the city "lost an irrepressible icon" and called Koch its "most charismatic cheerleader."

"Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback," Bloomberg said.

Koch was also an outspoken supporter of Israel, willing to criticize anyone, including President Barack Obama, over decisions Koch thought could indicate any wavering of support for that nation.

In a WLIW television program "The Jews of New York," Koch spoke of his attachment to his faith.