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Where is L.A.'s Ed Koch?

February 01, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Mayor Ed Koch marches down Fifth Avenue in New York's 1981 Labor Day parade.
Mayor Ed Koch marches down Fifth Avenue in New York's 1981 Labor Day… (Associated Press )

The Big Apple lost its core Friday. Ed Koch is dead.

Look up the word “feisty” in the dictionary, and you’ll probably find a picture of the former New York mayor.

Heck, to many folks -- New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike -- Koch was the very personification of the city. As his friend and spokesman George Arzt said Friday: "He was the epitome of New York -- loud, funny, opinionated, smart."

PHOTOS: Edward Koch | 1924 - 2013

Which is, of course, how New Yorkers see themselves. People from other parts of America might offer some other, less flattering adjectives.

Though I remember Koch’s tenure as mayor, I’ve never lived in New York. My wife did during some of the Koch years, however, and as she said Friday of “my mayor”: “I loved him. He got things done.” (So, OK -- I love her, so I guess I love Koch too.)

She’s not alone in her fondness for Koch, however. Here’s what other New Yorkers had to say about him Friday:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "He was a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend. In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless and guileless civic crusader. Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: "No New Yorker has -- or likely ever will -- voice their love for New York City in such a passionate and outspoken manner than Ed Koch. New York City would not be the place it is today without Ed Koch's leadership over three terms at City Hall."

Reading the tributes and the stories, though, I was struck by something else. Why hasn’t L.A. produced an Ed Koch? Why is it that the City of Angels -- a city of stars, celebrities, sports heroes and power brokers -- is so bereft of colorful politicians? Why is it that in a city filled with larger-than-life people (or, at least, people trying to be larger than life), our politicians are so small?

Look at our current mayor. Will anyone say ever say, “Los Angeles would not be the place it is today without Antonio Villaraigosa’s leadership at City Hall”? OK, they may, but it won’t probably won’t be meant as a compliment.

Yes, we had Sam Yorty. And Tom Bradley. Yorty was colorful. Bradley was powerful -- he served for 20 years. 

And, sure, Bradley has a terminal at LAX named for him. But in New York, they renamed a whole bridge -- the Queensboro Bridge -- for Koch.  And, never shy when it came to self-promotion, he wasn't satisfied, suggesting that he wouldn't mind if Newark Airport were renamed for him -- his initials, E.I.K, he said, "kind of rhymes with J.F.K."

Just the other day, my colleague, columnist Steve Lopez, bemoaned the current crop of candidates running for mayor, saying: “Los Angeles has had mediocre mayors. It's had decent mayors. Isn't it time we had a great mayor?” 

And after watching a recent debate, he opined, “For the most part, the five candidates came off as competent but not compelling. There was no presence, no magic, no star quality.”

How can this be? In the home of Hollywood, “no star quality”?

Yeah sure, it’s true, star power isn’t everything (see "Schwarzenegger, Arnold.") 

But on those nights when you’re basking in Dodger Stadium or stargazing at Staples Center, and you’re listening to Randy Newman belt out “I Love L.A.,” wouldn’t it be nice to know there’s a guy or gal at City Hall who feels the same way?

And maybe, just maybe, Lopez's last sentence hints at who that guy might be:  

Magic, anyone?

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