4:51 pm Jan. 20, 2012
Last night, as the remaining Republican candidates debated in South Carolina and President Obama sang with Al Green uptown, Ed Koch was at the Time Warner Center keeping things frank.
It was a moderated discussion between Koch and Fordham law professor Thane Rosenbaum, part of the “Forum on Law, Culture & Society” series. About 200 people watched the former mayor talk candidly about bridge-naming, presidential endorsements and his momentary role as a TV judge.
Rosenbaum, who introduced the 87-year-old former mayor as a “human landmark," asked first about last year’s renaming of a critical piece of New York’s infrastructure after Koch.
“Can we talk about this Queensboro Bridge?” Rosenbaum said. “Was that your first choice? Did they say to you, ‘You can have Manhattan Bridge, you can have Williamsburg Bridge, you can be the B.Q.E.?'”
Koch said: “I was in my car, riding home as I recall, and I got a call from Mayor Bloomberg. And he said, ‘Ed, I’d like to announce tomorrow that I am going to rename—with the City Council—the Queensboro Bridge the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, if you agree.' I said, 'Who wouldn’t agree?' And that’s the way it happened.”
He was also asked about his recently ring-toned appearance in Bloomberg’s State of the City address:
“Being Bloomberg—I think he’s a terrific mayor and people don’t appreciate him to the extent that they should—but in any event, he had a cameo to warm up the audience and they called me they asked me if I would like to be in it and I said, 'Sure.'”
Another topic of the discussion focused on the intersection of law and popular culture: Koch’s two-year stint in the late 1990s as the judge on "The People’s Court." Why, Rosenbaum wanted to know, would defendants and plaintiffs humiliate themselves on television?
Koch said it was easy: The show offered to pay for any awarded damages. But as a host, even though he was making $1 million per year, he said didn’t want to dial up his screaming like the producers asked. So he left.
Koch also detailed the events that he said led him to support Republican businessman Bob Turner against the Democratic candidate in last September's special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s vacant seat in Congress.
He called Turner’s opponent, Assemblyman David Weprin, a “nice guy” (whose brother, City Councilman Mark Weprin, happens to have co-sponsored the bridge-renaming bill).
Koch said, as he said at the time, and many times thereafter, that he had decided to endorse the Republican in order to "send a message" to President Obama about supporting Israel.
“I got a call from David Weprin. He said, ‘What are you doing? I can be that message.’ I said ‘David, don’t be ridiculous, it’s nothing personal. How can you be the message? Another Democrat to send to Washington, that’s going to send a message? It’s ridiculous. Don’t take it personally David.'"
Koch said when Obama was in town shortly afterward for the United Nations general assembly, he got a call from Bill Daley, Obama’s then-chief of staff, asking him to meet with the president.
“The president said, 'I don’t know why the Jewish community thinks I’m not as supportive of Israel as they would like me to be,'" Koch said. "Then he went to his feelings, which were very important and close, warm, and his childhood, friends and so forth. And I congratulated him on his speech made that day.”
Within days of the meeting, Koch said he decided to again support Obama. He plans to campaign for Obama in Florida later this year.
“Is he perfect? Of course not. Nobody’s perfect. And do we have disputes? And have I, or will I again, have disputes which hopefully can always be worked out? Of course.”
Ultimately though, he didn’t think the president’s opponents would be much of a match for Obama.
“Oh yeah, he’ll be reelected,” Koch said. “He’s a very lucky guy, because the Republicans are nuts.”
At the end of the night, Koch asked the audience for business cards to add them to the distribution list for his weekly movie review email. newsletter. As people filtered out, the former mayor stood by the elevator bank taking business cards.
“Emails,” he repeatedly yelled, as people took pictures and gave him their contact information.
One man leaned close and slipped Koch his card.
“Emails,” he said back to the mayor.
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