Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

‘You punch me, I punch back’: Was Ed Koch the most quotable U.S. mayor ever?

In this May 16, 2012, file photo, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, right, talks to reporters as Assemblyman Rory Lancman watches in New York. Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died at age 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Koch died Friday morning Feb. 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure.

Seth Wenig/AP

Ed Koch, New York city's mayor from 1978 to 1989, is being remembered as a politician who saved the city from bankruptcy.

But it was his colourful character – bombastic, irrepressible, charismatic – that made him one of the most quotable U.S. mayors. You be the judge.

"In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader," said the city's current mayor, Mike Bloomberg, in tribute. "We will miss him dearly, but his good works – and his wit and wisdom – will forever be a part of the city he loved so much."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Koch's quotes are being shared on social media and several lists compiled by admirers. Here are just some of the memorable Koch quotes form over the years.

"If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist," said the three-term mayor.

On the scourge of graft, he said: "The knife of corruption endangered the life of New York City. The scalpel of the law is making us well again."

During a transit strike, Mr. Koch walked to the Brooklyn Bridge and shouted encouragement to commuters forced to walk to work: "Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We're not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!"

His advice to graduating students: "The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse."

During a Playboy magazine interview given in the middle of a campaign to become New York governor, he said Albany – the state capital – was a "fate worse than death." And he had this to say about life outside of Manhattan: "Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It's sterile. It's nothing. It's wasting your life, and people do not wish to waste their lives once they've seen New York! ... This rural American thing — I'm telling you, it's a joke."

"You punch me, I punch back. I do not believe it's good for one's self-respect to be a punching bag," said Mr. Koch, according to AP.

Story continues below advertisement

"I'm the sort of person who will never get ulcers. Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I'm the sort of person who might give other people ulcers," he once said about his blunt style.

When asked after his defeat in 1989 whether he would run again: "The people have spoken ... And they must be punished."

Arguably the most oft-repeated Koch line, shouted to New Yorkers he encountered: "Hey! How'm I doing?" It was a question he genuinely wanted an answer to. "Some people have said that's a mark of insecurity. Gee, I have to be patted on the back, how'm I doing," he told NPR. "I want you to think about this: Do you know people in public life who are sufficiently secure to ask people to rate them?"

Mr. Koch inserted himself in to national politics. Most recently, he endorsed Barack Obama in this video and offered this tweet following one of the televised debates: "Citizens, to settle the "binder" issue, tally women in top posts in the Romney state govt vs Obama fed govt. The proof is in the binding."

For the most recent Vanity Fair magazine's Proust Questionnaire, he was asked about his greatest fear: "Of choking on some food and having no one nearby to do the Heimlich maneuver."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to