The former mayor of New York passed on this week. I watched with a little bit of melancholy as the mourners(doesn’t seem like the right verbiage) bade Ed Koch good bye in a packed church or temple or whatever. As they carried his casket down the aisle the throng applauded for his last standing ovation.The organ played, New York, New York. No weeping here. Just smiles and stories.
Ed was an incredible character. He was the consummate politician and made no excuses. He was acclaimed as a hero and a schmuck in the same breath. He could evade questions with the best of them but there was no pretense. He knew it and the press knew it. And they had a lot of laughs about it. Compared to today he was transparent.
He would campaign outside subway stations. He would always ask, “How am I doin?” with his very best New York accent. He would show up everywhere and tell both friend and foe what was on his mind. His hair, what there was of it, was not styled and his suits were probably off the rack and hung baggy most of the time. He lived somewhere in the Village and just enjoyed his city. Gracie Mansion was his home for ten years but so was the whole isle of Manhattan.
In the spring of 1985 Ed endeared himself to 25,000 grunts and squids who had served in Viet Nam. In his own inimitable way he said, “Enough!.” When we came back in the late 60’s and early 70’s we were not only not welcomed but we were shunned. They were trying to figure out if we were baby killers or powder kegs ready to blow. The mayor knew better.
He gave us a ticker tape parade on a gorgeous May day. I was on my way to work on Wall Street but at the last moment veered off the subway line to wind up at the Brooklyn Bridge. Coming out of the subway to my amazement among the thousands were 25-30 guys with whom I had served in the riverine force. Some were in cammies and some like myself were in business suits. It didn’t matter.
We marched across the bridge as if on a mission. The Mayor was way up front leading the way. He was pushing a Congressional Medal of Honor vet in a wheelchair for the entire route. We were somewhat rag tag but we were proud. I imagine we were quite a sight.
As we neared the NYC side there were girls up in the office buildings holding up big signs in the windows with their phone numbers. They were safe. We were harmless. We turned the corner at Church Street to head south…..and then.
There is no street like Broadway in New York and this was beyond special. Ahead of us were up to 1 million city dwellers who had turned out to welcome us home. They cheered. They yelled encouragement. They threw ticker tape and it was the most incredible feeling in the world. We just couldn’t stop saying thank you. The biggest thank you of all was to Big Ed.
The wounds still hadn’t healed even after 10-15 years. The protesters and whackos of years gone by didn’t realize that we were human beings too. I wish they had shown us as much respect as they did to the other side but life moves on. Most notably I went home that night to turn on the TV. Defying any reason, not one of the three major networks broadcast any coverage of a parade with a turnout of 1 million people. All the news that fits the print. It’s okay. We had our day and our fun. Thanks to the mayor.
I actually worked out in the same gym Ed frequented from time to time. I stress the time frame. I was there most days. He wasn’t. I told him what that parade meant to us and he smiled. But I also told him of another New York story.
I was sectioned out of the Navy at the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. In my Navy Blues I went to the rental office at Stuyvesantown in the city. This was a large rent controlled apartment complex owned by Met Life. It was built in post WWII and they could make only a fixed return every year. As a result the rents were beyond reasonable. And the wait list was long.
I inquired as to where I was on the waiting list. Kathy and I were getting married and this was an important piece to the puzzle. The boss came over to the counter and questioned where I had been. I replied, “Viet Nam” and told him of my travels. He listened intently and then excused himself. He came back a few moments later with the keys to three two bedroom apartments. He said, “Son, take your pick. You are in luck.”
As I told my story I could almost swear I saw a bit of a tear in Ed’s eye. There was a lot of softness amid all the bluster. He loved every inch of New York and it showed.
I am going back Friday to my 50th high school reunion at Loyola School on Park and 83rd. I used to take the Long Island RR to Penn Station and then worked my way north on three different subways. As a kid of 13 or 14, I knew my way around the city better than most. It was my city.
As I walk down Park Avenue I will think of the many wonderful years I lived there. I will remember being a teen and then a husband. I will visit St. Ignatius Church, the scene of my brother’s marriage and long after his funeral. I will meet my nephew’s new son. Life will be good.
I’ll have a scotch or two while meeting old friends and reliving old times. Most of all I will remember Hizzoner. And maybe raise a glass. We need more people like that. He didn’t get it all right but he was mostly decent and forthright. Works for me.
Ted The Great.
There are five boroughs that make up NYC. Manhattan joins the Bronx,Brooklyn, Staten Island(Richmond) and Queens. The population is 8.2 million.
There have been 108 mayors of New York going back to 1666. There has been the corruption of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. There has been a multi billionaire in the person of Mike Bloomberg.
The budget of NYC is $66 billion. That makes it the 44th largest economy in the world.