Most readers of my blog probably don’t know much about–and maybe never even heard of–New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who died this week at age 88. Koch served three terms from 1978-1990, and is often credited with turning the city around at a time when it was in terrible decline. Ed Koch was also a public relations dream; he was accessible, opinionated, honest, colorful, proud, funny, and very media friendly. Most importantly, he loved New York City and he loved people.
Brought up in Brooklyn, Edward Irving Koch was a decorated soldier in World War II, became a lawyer, and served in the City Council and the United States Congress before running for mayor. After he left office he was a radio talk show host, author, online movie critic, and was even “The People’s Court” judge on TV. He loved people, talking and joking and listening and asking his trademark “How am I doin’?” wherever he went.
Dr. Evan Cornog, dean of Hofstra University’s School of Communication and a former assistant press secretary to Mayor Koch, recently wrote in a Newsday op-ed that Koch’s success was more than good PR. “And what impressed me above all,” wrote Dr. Cornog, ”was that nearly all the time, the question he was trying to answer was: What was the best choice for the entire city?”
Like every politician, Koch had plenty of folks who didn’t agree with him, but he still got an amazing 78 percent of the vote in his third run for mayor. From a PR perspective, he put the “public” in public relations because he was able to take the city from its economic and emotional doldrums, in part, by becoming its cheerleader-in-chief. He lifted people’s spirits by the sheer force of positive thinking. For a dozen years he was the face of a city that was down but not out, and New York is a far better place today because of him.
Ed Koch is proof that putting people first is good politics and good PR. Today’s nasty, divisive, lobby-funded politicians should look to his example. Your thoughts?