Urban blight … described as “a severely spoiled or ruined state, especially of an urban area…”
Some thirty plus years ago, around the beginning of the last quarter of the last century (Wow! ... saying that makes me feel old!) there was a big eastern seaboard city which at some point had been called the “Apple” of my eyes… the Big Apple… however, following several extremely ineffective years of government, this particular apple had begun to become rotten at the core. It has been said over and again that the second toughest job in the country it to manage New York City… of this, I have no doubt. Whoever wants the job needs to wield a steel hand wrapped in a silk glove. This was especially true back in those difficult years following the 60’s and early 70’s.
In came a congressman from the city who was described not very kindly by his adversaries as a “little Nazi disguised as a Jew”. I remember that election; there were several tough cookies in the running, including Ed Koch. Ed’s voice wasn’t exactly 5th Avenue polished… a high nasal rasping whine closely resembling “the screech of the “A” train” as described by a not too kind radio host whose only attribute was his velvet like voice with not much else to back it up…
Ed Koch won the mayoralty not once, but three times running. He inherited a dying city that had become the butt of national jokes, deeply in debt, with strikes everywhere, especially in the public services areas (yes, including the police), poverty, graft and an alarming rate of increase in crime.
Not long before Koch became mayor, part of my area of coverage for the pharmaceutical company where I worked at the time was in the Bronx; the Latino ghetto in the Bronx. I remember that police cars were seen on a very, very seldom basis and whenever one whizzed by (yes, whizzed, as in non-stop) there would be at least a mini squad of four occupants in it. Cops were actually afraid to patrol the area. There was a movie made around that time, I believe with the late Paul Newman in one of the lead roles. It was based on the everyday living in this area of the Bronx and described the realities of life therein and lack of desire on the part of the public servant to serve… the movie was called, simply, “Fort Apache”.
Koch was not a mayor who was loved by all. Perhaps because he was short on patience with people who wanted to take advantage of the system and there were far too many of these in the Big Apple. They had been steadily nurtured and fed throughout continuing governments which were afraid to deal with them with a hard hand. Starting with John V. Lindsay… great looks and great posturing, but not an ounce of administrative clout. This ineffectual regime was followed by Abe Beame, who wanted to be loved by everyone. Equally as ineffective.
So it was to be expected that when a screech voiced, city born and bred Jew who wouldn't take crap from anyone actually made it to mayor, there were feathers ruffled. He couldn't care less… Strikes were put down, unions and public servants eventually were forced to serve the public and so, the re-conquering of the city was begun. So effective were the results of Koch’s first term that, even when running as a liberal, he was endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Eventually, he was re-elected for a third term but, in the end, his short patience and his totally open-mouth-insert-foot style of expressing himself brought about his defeat when he tried to run for governor of the state. That’s OK… had he been elected he would have probably tried to make Manhattan the capital of NY State, so as not to move “out there where there’s nothin’”. So was his love for this NYC island that he bought a burial plot in the Trinity Cemetery of lower Manhattan sometime ago. When he announced this, he said something like… “I wouldn’t want to spend eternity in New Jersey”.
His legacy still stands today. He definitely gave us back the Manhattan we loved and came to love again; he also gave us back the rest of NYC. And for this he will be remembered. He used to run around, in his inimitable style and ask of anyone within earshot…
-“How’m I doin’?”
I will say to that… “Rest in Peace because You did well Hizzoner…. Well indeed!!”
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