He was an irascible free thinker. At times he made us proud as Jews, at other times he wholly disappointed. But that I suppose is life in politics. And that was Mayor Ed Koch—his life was politics.
The last time I saw him I was standing just under the podium on a stage at election night headquarters for former Congressman Bib Turner of Queens. Koch was supporting Turner, a Republican, in his run against the Democrat David Weprin who was certain of victory in a solid and iron clad Democratic district.
The Koch support may have made the difference in a very close race. There he stood on the stage alongside Long Island Republican Peter King as the results quickly poured in and it began to look like a Turner/Republican triumph. The Koch motivation was to express his displeasure with the fashion in which President Obama was handling Israel and specifically the disrespectful way he had dealt with Prime Minister Netanyahu on what was then a recent visit to Washington.
It wasn’t that long ago—less than two years—and Koch was beaming and on his game. He was 86-years old at the time and very pleased that he could still play the politically influential role of power broker in the political arena that he loved so dearly.
But then last year he reversed himself and decided that Obama had sufficiently dealt with the Koch criticism of how he was handling US-Israel relations. He supported Obama’s re-election after a one on one White House visit with the president. It was satisfying to the former Mayor that his position was important enough for the President to invite him into a meeting on the matter. I think it would have been more satisfying for us and even courageous for Mr. Koch to stand firm in his opinion and continue to keep the heat on Mr. Obama. It apparently meant a lot to the president.
Sure Ed Koch frequently sent mixed signals on Israel and one would always be surprised on where he stood. On Jonathan Pollard his position was that Pollard should remain in prison for life and that petitioning for his release was damaging the image of the American Jewish community. He was funny in that way. Koch never married and left no family.
About ten years ago after suffering a mild stroke he purchased a burial plot and had a tombstone inscribed for himself. It reportedly states the last words uttered by Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl before he was killed by Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan.
Pearls final words and the Koch epithet states: “My father was Jewish, my mother was Jewish and I am Jewish.”