There have been many Mayors of New York since the title became official in 1665. There was the fiery showman Fiorello La Guardia, his name still familiar to the 60,000 people a day who shuffle through the Queens airport that bears his name. The charismatic La Guardia loved the city he was born in, and ran it like a domineering chef whose most famous dish was “melting pot.” The five-foot-tall La Guardia won the mayoralty not long after the resignation of the debonair lawyer and Broadway songwriter Jimmy Walker, a man whose name might be synonymous with big city political corruption were it not for a voracious operator named “Boss” Tweed, who was never actually elected mayor but ran the city anyway, through Tammany Hall. Patricians, too, have governed: Robert Wagner, a three-term mayor, was paradoxically both Yale and Tammany Hall. He gave the city housing projects and the Mets, Lincoln Center and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Another patrician was the handsome, Kennedy-esque John Lindsay, who rolled up his sleeves and went down in the streets in the 60s and 70s. (James Baldwin’s streets, we hasten to add.) He also translated from the French for live television when the city honored painter Marc Chagall and the translator failed to show. You know about Rudy Giuliani: broken windows, law and order, bad divorce, roomed with gay couple, hated ferrets, ill-advisedly built the NYC emergency command center at the bottom of the World Trade Center and then became a media star after telling New Yorkers to calm the fuck down on 9/11. And of course, the current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, incorruptible for all his billions, fat- and smoke- and sugar-free, who takes Spanish lessons every day in order to talk, albeit haltingly, to a quarter of his constituents in their first language.
But there was only one Ed Koch. He may have been the most honest politician there ever was. Good things and bad things happened on his watch. He let you know. RIP, Hizzoner. You’re doing fine.