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Ed Koch's New York

This video gem is just B-roll from the New York subway in 1986 - 42nd Street, the shuttle, and Times Square. Trains, graffiti, grime, old signs from the 50s, and suits with shoulder pads. That was Ed Koch's New York.

The man was picaresque character, a giant whose corners would be knocked off by today's anodyne culture before he ever attained high office. Koch was a piece of work, alternately a racially insensitive bully who swung hard right during Reagan and sold the city to developers - and a surprisingly kind man in person who treated regular people like taxi drivers, waiters, cops and little old ladies with genuine respect.

In the mid-80s, he planned a big affordable housing initiative with his pals in the real estate industry. One particular development was to go up in the southern end Kingsbridge, just down the hill from Riverdale, about a thousand units. There was vocal protest. I was deputy editor and political reporter for The Riverdale Press at the time, and Buddy Stein and I traveled to City Hall one afternoon for a meeting with Koch and his team.

The man was civility itself: we lunched with the Mayor and his deputies in his private dining room as he tried to sell the plan. At one point he turned and repeated a quip he was to use dozens of times in his (unsuccessful in the end) quest to build the housing complex.

"Tom, you know how it is in Riverdale, don't you? It's last one in, shut the door!"

The line, delivered loudly with that familiar rising cadence, carried all of its inherent 'Kochness' like the blast of tunnel wind from the IRT as it hit Times Square in the 80s, covered with the tags of teenagers from the outer boroughs. That was a New York we won't see again. Grimy, full of fear, without the polish and the brass plaques and the property values.  There was no better place on earth for a young reporter to go out, collect stories, and write. I miss it.

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