As journalists, it’s our job to ferret out the news and to ask the hard questions.
But often there is a byproduct, a bonus that comes from the job…. the friendships that evolve from the professional relationships with news makers.
Ed Koch was one of those people I’m proud to say became a friend over the years, particularly the years after he left City Hall. He always took my calls, responded personally to my e-mails, and rarely, if ever, turned me down for an interview. As matter of fact, he was probably the most frequent guest on my weekly PIX11 News Closeup program since we went on the air in 1992.
Ed often gave me credit for giving him his initial media training back in 1969 when the then new congressman from the city’s Silk Stocking District would appear with me on a monthly interview program on Manhattan Cable Television, which broadcast in black and white out of the Sofia Storage Building, across from Lincoln Center.
At the outset, I found him to be on the quiet side, a bit introverted, but always outspoken on the issues. He became more confident with each broadcast, and the shoot-from-the hip liberal began to loosen up and inject some levity into the discussions. I began to see an evolving of the Koch charisma.
“Ask me whatever you want,” he would exclaim. And I would. He would be electrified with animation, his eyes popping open. Often he’d come up with a zinger that would elicit a laugh from the studio crew.
Covering Ed Koch the Mayor was such an enjoyable experience. He loved dealing with the media. He relished it and he loved to toy with us reporters. He’d often hold court in the lobby of City Hall, deftly fielding questions, except when he got asked something he thought was stupid. He’d shout, “That’s ridiculous.”
One of my favorite Koch moments came in 1981 when there was a massive power outage in lower Manhattan. It came just before the homeward rush and service was knocked out to the subways. Thousands of people descended onto the Brooklyn Bridge to walk home. I was following them with a camera crew, when I heard a familiar voice closing in, apologizing to the people for the outage and pledging, “We’ll overcome this.”
He approached one aging woman and told her he would get her a ride home. Darting into the roadway, he flagged down a car and instructed the driver to take the woman home.
He gingerly helped lower the woman’s head into the car and returned to the crowd on the bridge. I blared to Koch, “You’re the hero of the hour,” to which he retorted, “No, I’m just doing my job.”
It was moments like that that made Ed Koch so endearing to so many people. He had an uncanny way of connecting to people, making them feel he was truly their friend. Often he would tell me that my report was one the his favorite pieces. Years later he revealed to me what he said to the driver of the van into which he placed the woman. “I told him to take that woman straight home, and no funny business.”
Sometimes he appeared aloof and oblivious to people around him. But he wasn’t.
Case in point. For many years, my colleague Ellyn Marks would meet and greet Koch when he would arrive to be interviewed by me on PIX 11 News Closeup. He rarely spoke to her and she felt she was barely noticed by him … until a few years ago, when the former ,ayor came to our studios and saw Ellyn, who had been out for several months to undergo surgery. Koch smiled and asked her, “Where’ve you been? I missed you.” Ellyn was so touched that he even remembered her.
On Koch’s 80th birthday, I covered a party Mayor Bloomberg hosted at Gracie Mansion. At one point I requested to be allowed into the reception , not as a reporter, but as a friend wanting to wish the former mayor happy birthday.
Koch and Bloomberg were posing for pictures with guests. As soon as my head popped in the room, Koch shouted out to me to get into a picture . Bloomberg shuffled me into the center and I argued that Mayor Koch should be in the center. I was instructed to look into the camera and smile.
A month later I received a copy of the picture from City Hall. It was a great photo. Koch signed it: “To Marvin, my friend, Ed Koch.” Bloomberg’s message was, “Marvin, you and I should look this good at 80. Mike Bloomberg.”
The inscription I will always treasure is the one Koch wrote in his book, “Mayor.”
“To Marvin. You are a part of the history—Remember Manhattan Cable? Enjoy! Ed”
In his last interview with me before he entered the hospital in December, Koch told me that one of the things of which he felt most proud, was that “I gave a spirit back to New York.”
He certainly did. Now it is his spirit and all he accomplished as the city’s 105th mayor that will remain his legacy.
For me, I will miss never again getting a return to my phone calls or a response to my e-mails from a man I was so proud to call my friend.