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Lessons In Leadership From Ed Koch.

ed kochThis special Struming is about the passing of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. I knew Ed, though not well, as he is my cousin. His mother, Joyce, and my grandfather were sister and brother. Genealogists will therefore say that he was my first cousin once removed. My late mother Pauline, Pearlie as she was known to family members, was his first cousin, and they both grew up in Newark in the 30s. The Kochs moved from the Bronx to Newark in the 30s during the Depression, a difficult period for all. I don’t think Ed had fond memories of South Side High School or Newark. He made his mark as a Congressman in the “Silk Stocking District”, and obviously later as Mayor of New York City from 1977-1989. He remained active, vocal and in the spotlight until his passing.

To him I was merely Pearlie’s kid and we’d have short conversations at Family Circle gatherings (that’s what they were called) which we used to have regularly up until 10 years ago. I did enjoy our Family Circle meetings at Gracie Mansion in the 80s which we did often. That was cool. I do remember that we brought in our own food to avoid the inevitable New York Post headline had we not done so, Koch Bilks City for Family Circle Deli. I do have a photo of him at my bar mitzvah party, an evening which was clearly not a life highlight for him. Perhaps the gold dinner jacket I wore to the party (no joke, I say embarrassingly) was too blinding.

The last time I saw Ed was not at a Family Circle gathering or at a funeral, wedding or bar mitzvah. It was in Cherry Hill, NJ just a couple of miles from our home. Ed came to Cherry Hill on a Thursday evening about 5 years ago to speak to group of largely “alter kakers” (aka old farts) at the local Jewish Community Center. Ironically this was also the place where I play basketball in the Masters (over 40) League. Nothing masterful about our style of play, but hey I still love it. After playing and showering I changed into sweats and sat in the back of the audience and listened to Ed tell stories and entertain the group. His mind was quick and his tongue sharp as it always was. I said hello at the book signing after the event and exchanged a few words, while he tried to figure out why “Pearlie’s kid” was there to see him.

Ed was Mayor of New York for three terms from 1978-1989. This coincided precisely with the years I worked at BBDO in New York. I never lived in New York City as I always have lived in New Jersey, and still do. However, obviously I worked there daily during this era, so I was very attuned to New York’s many issues—and there were really big issues during his tenure—financial issues, subway strike, racial strife, crime, AIDS to name a few. He led the City through a period of turmoil and New York City was a far better place when he left office than when he began. Though no longer an elected official he was still “The Mayor” until his passing.

Again though I was hardly close to my cousin, I was proud of his success. I admired his feistiness and intelligence. Things I admired most were:

1. He spoke his mind. He never gave a PC answer and was brazen, intelligent and most often right in his points of views. He said he that gave ulcers rather than had ones of his own. He called Donald Trump “Piggy” and called former Mayor Giuliani a “Nasty Man”. No argument from me on either.

2. He could also say he was wrong. I recall he came back from a trip to China with the brainy idea of bike lanes throughout New York City, he later admitted that he screwed up.

3. He was proudly Jewish and a staunch defender of Israel. He never gave an inch on this critical issue.

4. Though he was a lifelong Democrat, he often took Conservative points of view. He did not merely “support the Democrat” just because they were in the same party.

5. Most of all he was a leader. He sought feedback, through his trademarked “How’m I Doing?” comments to New Yorkers.

Ed was a 3-time Mayor, but was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1989, when David Dinkins would become Mayor. Neither the Mayor that preceded Ed, Abe Beame, nor his successor, David Dinkins, were effective, nor did they have the distinctive legacy that Ed did.  In 2011 the Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge and celebrated in Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy), was renamed The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

New York City and its residents benefited from Mayor Ed Koch. Ed was proudly Jewish and proud to be a New Yorker.  He was a good man and a great Mayor. You did good, Ed.




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11 Comments

  1. Jon Firestone says:

    Lonny, I thought of you first when I heard the news this morning. I agree with your assessment of his performance, and offer my condolences to your family. Although I think Bloomberg is a great mayor, in my lifetime, Ed Koch was the only mayor who also epitomized my vision of a New Yorker. That authenticity made him relatable in a very special way.

  2. Ed Callahan says:

    Nicely done Lonny. Who knew about you and Ed Koch? I was born and raised in the Bronx, about 5 subway stops from Yankee Stadium. I no longer lived in NY when Ed Koch was mayor, but relatives of mine still did at the time and they too thought well of Mayor Koch.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks Ed. Yes I do remember you were a New Yorker from the Bronx. So where’s your allegiance to my Yankees?

  3. Stuart Marvin says:

    Lonny:

    Yes, Ed Koch was one of a kind. In many ways, he defined the “New York persona”–brash, smart, funny and most definitely not afraid to speak his mind. I saw Mayor Ed in Fairway about 3 months ago. He was one patron ahead of me at the deli counter. I commented to him, “Mr. Mayor you look much taller in person.” He smiled and said “he gets that a lot.” When he departed he gave me a nice smile and a good day nod. The guy behind the deli counter then said, “you know, that guy really looked a lot like Ed Koch.” It was a classic New York moment.

    New Yorkers have always had reverence for our Mayor. He’ll be missed. I didn’t know of your family tie to him. (It certainly beats my family ties to celebrity–my aunt was married to Curley of the 3 Stooges.)

  4. Michael Elkisch says:

    Hi Lonnie,

    When I woke up today to the news of Ed’s passing I immediately remembered that you were distantly related. My condolences. I hope life is treating you and Beth well. I enjoy your blog. Although I now live in San Francisco, I still root for the Yankees and eagerly await to see how they’ll deal with the ludicrous A-Rod contract. They are getting old and I fear that they may entering another Horace Clarke era. My son who works for WCBS 880 radio thinks the Steinbrenner’s may be ready to sell to Rupert Murdoch who bought a large stake in the YES Network. I will have to admit I do root for the Giants in the NL. If you ever come out to SF, give us a shout.

    Michael

    • Lonny Strum says:

      I don’t want Murdoch owning Yankees. That would be awful. Would love to see a Giants-Yankees World Series. Just like 1962 which I actually do remember. I will reach out whenever I come to SF which is alas rarely.

  5. Lew Pringle says:

    Lonny,

    Enjoyed your note about Mayor Koch and didn’t recall that you were related.

    I corresponded with him quite often over the last 20 years. I am NOT a Democrat or a Liberal and happen to think Bloomberg is an expensively dressed tyrant. And…………….. as dumb as any billionaire can be.

    But for me – always – Ed Koch was a special man. For openers, he’s the only Democrat I ever voted for – and I did so with gusto.John Vliet Lindsay was more of my ‘blood’ and I loathed him, together with the mayonnaise in his veins.. He was a consummate liar, Ed Koch spoke the truth. I never remember a time when I felt him to be misrepresenting himself or even being disingenuous. How I loved and admired that!

    So to his many “How’m I doin’ “s…………….. “Yer Honor, your the best and always were”.

    Lew Pringle

    PS I DO think Mayor Koch could have at least kicked in a little liver at your Family Circle get-togethers at Gracie Mansion, oy…..

    • Lonny Strum says:

      I am not a chopped liver guy myself, but some stuffed derma at Gracie Mansion Family Circle gatherings would have been great. Oh well.

      I do remember Ed ran as both a Democrat AND a Republican (I think in 1981) so no doubt that gave you some comfort in voting for him. Actually Ed was a unique politician. He truly was above political party–he could upset Democrats and Republicans alike with his honesty. New York (and our country) need more Ed Kochs.

      Thanks for the feedback, Lew. Hope all is well.

  6. Lonny Strum says:

    I am not a chopped liver guy myself, but some stuffed derma at Gracie Mansion Family Circle gatherings would have been great. Oh well.

    I do remember Ed ran as both a Democrat AND a Republican (I think in 1981) so no doubt that gave you some comfort in voting for him. Actually Ed was a unique politician. He truly was above political party–he could upset Democrats and Republicans alike with his honesty. New York (and our country) need more Ed Kochs.

    Thanks for the feedback, Lew. Hope all is well.

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