8 classic quotes from New York’s former Mayor Ed Koch

The outspoken former mayor died today at age 88. His brash way of speaking will never be forgotten.


The beloved former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch passed away on Feb. 1.

He may be gone, but he leaves behind a trove of sound bites and quotes for us to enjoy.

Koch was a three-term mayor in New York (1978-1989), a time defined by near financial ruin, government corruption, and AIDS. He was an author and activist. He even appeared on “The People’s Court.”

A man who often asked people, “How’m I doin’?,” Koch has been described as acid-tongued, feisty, and pretentious. He was an iconic New Yorker.

I remember his press conferences and interviews being laced with “ahs” and “ums.” These are the cardinal sins of Toastmasters and professional speakers.

But for Koch, his vocal habits weren’t sinful. They defined him as being real. Mayor Koch spoke his mind. There was nothing tricky about him. Koch’s press conferences showed him without a jacket, sporting a wrinkled shirt, and rolled-up sleeves. Watch out.

Here are some classic quotes to shed light on how Koch communicated and lived:

1. “I know many writers who first dictate passages, then polish what they have dictated. I speak, then I polish. Occasionally I do windows.”

2. “You punch me, I punch back. I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”

3. “Tone can be as important as text.”

4. His advice to young people: “Enjoy what you’re doing or don’t do it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult or won’t challenge you, but if you are involved in something that’s causing you to say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ then you’re in the wrong business.”

5. The mayor, who had never married, was asked by reporters about his sexuality. His response: “My answer to questions on this subject is simply, ‘F- off.’ There have to be some private matters left.”

6. Koch’s spokesman George Arzt remembered Hizzoner’s sense of humor. “I got into the car and said I couldn’t believe how a kid who grew up in Williamsburg was now sitting next to the mayor. Then the mayor said: “Oh, shut up. Everybody comes from somewhere.”

7. In one of his last interviews, Koch told Vanity Fair: “At age 88, I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘Well, I’m still in New York. Thank you, God.'”

8. In 1983, Mayor Koch bought a burial plot in Trinity Church Cemetery. It was the only cemetery in Manhattan that still had space. Koch, who was Jewish, told the Associated Press: “I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone. This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

Soon after he purchased the burial plot, Mayor Koch had an engraved marker placed at the site. It has the last words of slain journalist Daniel Pearl: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

Rest in peace, Mayor Koch.

A version of this article first appeared on Get In Front Communications.

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