I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the passing of my favorite judge, a New York icon, a Jewish and Israeli activist and a lifelong bachelor with “questionable sexuality.” After all, he presided on the bench in my dominant performance in 1998 on The People’s Court, when I took Ramon “I listen to you Hainah” Diaz to the cleaners, so to speak. There are a number of memorable and laugh out loud funny moments from that experience…I will share one:
As of 1998, I had never been on a show like The People’s Court before, not even to a taping. Having seen the show a few times, particularly with Wapner in his post-Rain Man prime, I was familiar with the format, the set, the premise and the unmistakable music. But nothing, and I mean nothing, could prepare me for my actual taping. When we (and by “we” I mean myself and my “character witness” Craig) strode through the doors that led to the courtroom set, in boomed the familiar music (bah-dah-dah-dah)…really loud. A) I thought that music would be added in post production/editing – boy was I wrong; B) I was in the moment, game face on, ready to tear my opponent a new one…focusing on my arguments and such; C) I knew this would be on television, so I did all I could to fight back a surge of uncontrollable laughter that was quickly emerging from deep in my stomach; and D) I may have torn a muscle or two in my gut during said struggle, but the laughter was somehow suppressed…not the wry smile, however, which Easy Ed noticed and made reference to during a commercial break – He whispered, “I saw you trying not to laugh, and you should know that despite all evidence to the contrary, my courtroom is a serious place.” He then winked at me, and the rest, as they say, is history. I will miss his Honorable Ed Koch and my “slam dunk” victory.
A few noteworthy facts about His Honor:
1) Born in the Bronx to immigrant Polish Conservative Jews in 1924, he grew up in Newark, New Jersey
2) He was a decorated Army Sergeant who fought in the Battle of the Bulge
3) He began his political career as a very left wing liberal, opposing the war in Vietnam and marching in the South and in Washington during the Civil Rights Movement
4) In the wake of the Watergate scandal, during which he actually coined the phrase, “The Watergate Seven,” Koch began to lean more toward the right – so much so, in fact, that by his second campaign for mayor he ran on both Republican and Democratic platforms, and by his third campaign, abandoned both parties completely, running as an independent, though he was still included on the Democratic ticket
5) This shift toward the right played a key role, as after 8 years in Congress, he ran for NYC mayor in 1977 with a more conservative platform than his competitors, and his timing, in the face of the riots that engulfed the city following the blackouts (and Son of Sam’s reign of terror), was impeccable – He won largely due to his hard-line promise to restore public safety
6) His three terms as mayor were fraught with highs and lows, but his trademark sympathetic maxim, “How am I doing?” bolstered him to popularity
7) No matter what his ambiguous sexuality actually was, his primary failure during his first term was his failure to act in the face of the overwhelming AIDS epidemic that gripped NYC during the early 1980s – many authors and activists condemned his behavior, including Randy Shilts, who in And the Band Played On, his influential history of the early AIDS epidemic in America, discussed the possibility that Koch ignored the developing epidemic in New York City in 1982–1983 because he was afraid of lending credence to rumors of his homosexuality. (It should be known that In 1986, Mayor Koch signed a lesbian and gay rights ordinance for the city after the City Council passed the measure (on March 20), following several failed attempts by that body to approve such legislation)
8) He authored and co-authored nearly 20 books from 1980 through 2007, and in retirement started reviewing movies for a weekly web video segment entitled Mayor at the Movies, which was syndicated in the Huffington Post
9) Ed provoked and maintained an almost legendary feud with Jesse Jackson, which began during the primaries of the 1988 Presidential election. That race had seen Jackson surprising many as he challenged for the Democratic nomination. As the April New York primary approached, Koch reminded voters of Jackson’s alleged anti-Semitism and said that Jews would be “crazy” to vote for Jackson. It continued from there, and played a large role in Koch’s loss to David Dinkins in the 1989 mayoral primary
10) Koch often wrote in defense of Israel and, also, against anti-Semitism. He also appeared in the documentary FahrenHYPE 9/11 defending President Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and blasting Michael Moore. Koch was quoted in the film saying of Moore’s film, Fahrenheit 9/11, “It’s not a documentary, it’s a lie.”
11) The very year he and I crossed paths, he penned my favorite quote when asked to comment on his actual sexual experiences, writing: “What do I care? I’m 73 years old. I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It’s rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply ‘Fuck off.’ There have to be some private matters left.”
Edward Irving Koch, may you rest in peace.