I had one of the last interviews with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch – even though I wasn’t sure I would get it.
In December, while writing a long retrospective on the career of U.S. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, I figured that getting Koch on the phone would help the story tremendously. Koch was one of the most outspoken politicians in recent decades, and he and Lieberman were longtime friends. Koch was famous for outrageous quotes, including the time when he was running for governor in 1982 and angered upstate New Yorkers by saying those living in rural areas “drive 20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears, Roebuck suit.”
Having no contacts with Koch over the past 25 years, I dialed information and asked the operator for a residential listing for Edward Koch in Greenwich Village in New York City.
No listing, the operator said.
How about a business listing for Edward I. Koch, including the middle initial to narrow it down, in Manhattan?
No listing, the operator said.
That’s impossible, I told her. He’s the former mayor of New York City!
I told her I would find it on my own and hung up.
The number that came from a reliable researcher at The Courant looked like the general number for the Pentagon, and I figured I’d get transferred five times before reaching anyone. Upon dialing, I was stunned when a woman answered by saying, “Mr. Koch’s office.”
I explained that I was a reporter for The Courant, that I was writing about Lieberman, and I was hoping to speak to the former mayor – without telling her that Koch was a major political icon in my lifetime as a native New Yorker who was born in Queens and went to college in the city.
Only 15 seconds into my elongated introduction, she cut me off by saying, “He’s right here. Let me see if I can put him on.”
About five seconds later, Ed Koch himself was on the line.
When I gave him the same introduction about the Lieberman story, he quickly cut off the niceties in pure Kochian fashion by saying, “What are your questions?”
Here’s what he said, including that Lieberman was one of the greatest U.S. Senators in history.
“He has always been known as the conscience of the Senate. I’m very proud of him. I invited him to come to New York City and greet his constituents and campaign at Grand Central [during the 2006 U.S. Senate general election against anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont]. We campaigned in the bowels of Grand Central. I think the Senate will be much the poorer for his loss. I wish him only the best.”
On how he explains that Lieberman lost to Lamont in the 2006 Democratic primary:
“I don’t really understand what they do in Connecticut, so I’m not prepared to analyze why they repudiated him.”
On whether Lieberman was correct to support the Iraq War:
“I supported it, too. If the CIA tells you it’s a slam dunk that they have weapons of mass destruction and if the President didn’t listen to them or senators like Senator Lieberman didn’t and they used it against us and our allies, the president would be blamed and those senators would be blamed for not taking the advice of the CIA. Once they found out they didn’t have the weapons of mass destruction, we should have gotten out. I regret we’re still in Afghanistan. I don’t know what his position was – whether it agreed with the president who wanted to stay there forever.”
On Lieberman supporting Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race over Democrat Barack Obama:
“Then Joe was wrong. And I don’t expect everybody to be right all the time. You look at their whole record.”
On how he rated Lieberman in the Senate:
“It’s not possible for me to give him a ranking, other than to say he’s in the top three. I love him.”