During my career in politics in two states I’ve had the pleasure of working with two of America’s most effective and famous Mayors. Ed Koch of New York City and Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, both of whom were born in the Bronx, a borough of NYC, but were raised and built their political careers elsewhere. Both consummate political campaigners and they became the recognized symbols of their cities during the years they served. And, both were, while loyal Democrats, independent in their approach to government and willing to work with and sometimes assist officials from the other political party.
I met Ed Koch when he first ran for Mayor of New York City in 1977. As a newly serving state assemblyman I stayed out of the fractious Democratic primary but when it resulted in a two person run-off I endorsed Koch. He was an indefatigable campaigner. He would walk into stores and shake hands with the customers. He loved beauty parlors and the women sitting under their hair dryers were always both amazed and pleased. He would enter a bank, especially on social security check day when there were lines for the tellers and he would shout out “This isn’t a hold up. It’s me Ed Koch and I’m running for Mayor.” People loved it.
I missed two opportunities to campaign with Koch. Once in the summer of 1977 it was 104 degrees and he was going to walk the commercial strip of my home neighborhood - a fifteen block strip with no trees or shade. I couldn’t do it. He did. And the second time was when after the primary I and a group of other leaders were preparing to endorse him for the run-off. Since his run-off opponent was from Queens he much wanted me there. And I came for the press conference. However my first daughter had just been born and I had a limited time to get back to the hospital. Koch was late so I had to leave and get back to the hospital. He was gracious enough to send flowers and always thereafter asked after her.
Whenever I faced a primary contest he was always there to campaign for me. As Mayor he was often irascible, he was sometimes infuriating, but, he was always independent. He kept his word when we differed he often tried to compromise. Once he asked Gov. Cuomo to veto a bill I had sponsored which was of tremendous importance to my neighborhood. Cuomo obliged but said he would sign it the next year unless the Mayor compromised. His staff wouldn't give in so we re-passed it and Cuomo signed it. At that point the Mayor sent a letter to my constituents saying I had passed the bill they wanted and done a great job for them. He was in a word known to New Yorkers of all backgrounds a Mensch.
Once when we were campaigning in Astoria I told him he should take the show on the road and run for Governor. He said “they’d never accept me upstate” Unfortunately, he didn’t listen to his own instincts; and, though almost the entire party establishment supported him he lost the gubernatorial primary to Mario Cuomo the man he had beaten in the Mayoral run-off. Koch often joked that he was the only candidate who was 120 points ahead in the polls and then lost. He served twelve years as Mayor of New York City losing his fourth primary contest in 1989.
I had moved from NYC in 1987 to Delaware Co. PA. Not living in Philadelphia all I knew of Ed Rendell was what I saw on the television news. Until he ran for Governor and as Delaware County Democratic chairman I supported him for the party nomination. Despite the long held belief that a Philadelphian couldn’t win statewide, Rendell did. He defeated the front runner in the primary and then went on to win the general election against the Republican who was expected to beat the Philly Mayor. He took his show on the road and the folks throughout the state reacted as did those in the suburbs - they loved him. I remember his first foray into Nether Providence in our county at a house party where he told the assembled guests (none really active in politics) that as Mayor of Philadelphia he had visited a school in Tinicum (in our county not the city) and read to the school children. The media dubbed him America’s Mayor he certainly was seen by the voters as Pennsylvania’s Mayor.
When Obama ran for President in 2008, Ed Koch offered to be a surrogate speaker. He came to Martin’s Run in Broomall to speak to a mostly Jewish audience about why they had nothing to worry about in Obama as President. I saw him there and introduced him to the crowd. He needed no introduction. They all knew who he was and he did his usual stand-up terrific job. I’ve often thought that if I had the privilege of introducing Ed Rendell to a New York audience the same would be true - they would know who he was and he’d do a swell job.
Ed Koch and Ed Rendell two Jewish boys who were born in the Bronx and then rose to be the symbols of the cities they grew up in and served for so long. Neither was ever seen as a Jewish candidate. Both in their way transcended ethnicity and both surpassed partisanship. I knew one and know the other and campaigned for both.
1 Feb. 2013