Remembering my friend Ed Koch

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Remembering my friend Ed Koch

By Luis Miranda        
Publisher, The Manhattan Times 

Swearing In Photo

My swearing-in as Special Advisor.

For years, I had seen him on television.

I had seen him at various events, where I was one of many in attendance.

I knew his history, and then one day for an hour, I sat with him, Ed Koch, for an interview to become his Special Advisor for Hispanic Affairs. It was the beginning of his third term as mayor, after an election in which Hispanic voters had overwhelmingly cast their ballots for him, and he had pledged to focus on the needs of our community. From one moment to the next, I had gone from being an “activist” to a part of the Koch administration.

I hit the ground running.

Some Hispanic leaders, including the then-publisher of El Diario-La Prensa, criticized Koch daily. They believed that he did not do enough for the Hispanic community and that he was not acting on the recommendations made by his own Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

One day during breakfast, in which I wore the face of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he looked over at me and offered this note of counsel: “Put all of your eagerness, care and intelligence in what you are doing, and forget about the critics.”

From that day on, my attitude changed. I decided that it was more important to do what was right than to act to please the critics.

The circumstances of our work brought us closer. I toiled day and night, traveled everywhere with him to public functions, and represented him in every corner of the city, speaking on his policies and of his commitment.

His personality, too, drew me in. I greatly enjoyed our meals during visits to Gracie Mansion, and the many lunches we had at El Castillo de Jagua en Loisaida.

Little by little, Ed Koch became my friend, and I his. I delighted in hearing his stories, and he was always entertained by my own tales of my family.

My friend, and Mayor, Ed Koch.

My friend, and Mayor, Ed Koch.

I traveled with him to Central America during civil wars, and met with Latin American leaders each time any one of them visited the Big Apple. In fact, with the then-mayor of Bogota, Andres Pastrana, we organized the first international mayors’ conference on drugs. I became engaged in Koch’s campaign to abate crime in the city, and also in his rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing. I helped in identifying the sites on which half-a-dozen schools would be assigned in northern Manhattan. And under his direction, in 1986, I aided in organizing information that was disseminated to thousands of undocumented immigrants in their pursuit of amnesty.

I worked tirelessly in the unsuccessful attempt to have him become the first mayor in the city to serve four terms. When we lost the primary to David Dinkins, he named me to the board of the Health and Hospitals Corporation so that I would continue to serve the city that he loved and I had adopted as my own.

I always accompanied him to the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and as it turns out, I still have all his guayaberas that, after becoming a private citizen, he gave me.

The last time I went with Ed Koch to the parade, more than a decade ago, he was one of four notable New Yorkers who carried photographs of Reverend Al Sharpton, the Assemblymember Jose Rivera, the then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, and my partner and friend for life, Roberto Ramírez, in the parade. They were known as the “Vieques Four,” and had been arrested and imprisoned for protesting against the U.S. Navy’s bombardment of the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico.

For the next 22 years, I continued to see Ed Koch at his apartment in the Village, revisiting our meals and seeing him in larger meetings organized by Diane Coffey for other members of the large governmental Koch family.

He called and sent a gift when my daughter was married a decade ago. Later, when my first grandchild was born, he called to congratulate me, and as the birth took place at the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, just blocks from his apartment, we met for coffee. When I organized a reading to raise funds for my son to be able to continue with his nascent project In the Heights, Koch was there, and when the musical opened off-Broadway, he was in the audience as well. Moreover, when Lin-Manuel received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University, Ed Koch sat with our family for hours during the ceremony.

As do all New Yorkers, and especially those who loved him dearly, we thought Ed Koch would live forever. I lunched with him just before Christmas and as always, he asked after Lucecita, Lin-Manuel, Miguelito and Luz. I felt that his body was weak, but his mental agility and humor, that which had enamored him to so many, remained untouched.

Now, he will rest forever in Washington Heights, on the island of Manhattan so dear to his soul, and in the neighborhood that he and I both loved.

Recordando a mi amigo Ed Koch

Por Luis Miranda
Publisher, The Manhattan Times 

Swearing In Photo

En mi juramentación como asesor.

Por años lo había visto por televisión.

Lo había conocido personalmente en esas actividades donde uno es uno de muchos. Sabía de su historial, y un día por una hora me senté con el, Ed Koch, en una entrevista para convertirme en su asesor para asuntos hispanos.

Era el principio de su tercer término como alcalde, luego de unas elecciones donde los hispanos habían votado abrumadoramente por el, y el se había comprometido a enfocarse en las necesidades de nuestra comunidad latina. De la noche a la mañana pasé de “activista” a asesor del Alcalde Ed Koch.

Mi jornada comenzó como se dice en buen español: a patá limpia. Algunos líderes hispanos, incluyendo el entonces editor de El Diario-la prensa, criticaban a Koch diariamente. Consideraban que no hacía lo suficiente para los latinos y que no estaba implementando las recomendaciones de su propia Comisión de Asuntos Hispanos.

Un día, en el que yo tenía una cara de que cargaba el peso del mundo en mis hombros, mientras almorzábamos, me dijo, “Pon todo tu ahínco, esmero e inteligencia en lo que estás haciendo y olvídate de las críticas”.

Y desde ese día mi actitud cambio: las críticas me resbalaban y decidí que era más importante hacer lo que era correcto y necesario en vez de actuar para complacer a los críticos.

Las circunstancias y su personalidad nos unieron. Pasaba día y noche en mi labor. Continuamente iba con Ed Koch a funciones públicas, lo representaba en cualquier actividad a hablar sobre su labor y su compromiso. Privadamente disfrutaba de mis visitas a Gracie Mansion, de los almuerzos que teníamos en El Castillo de Jagua en Loisaida, y de mis discusiones personales con Ed Koch.

Poco a poco Ed Koch se convirtió en mi amigo. Me embelezaba escuchando sus historias y el se entretenía escuchándome hablar sobre mi familia.

My friend, and Mayor, Ed Koch.

Mi amigo, el Alcalde Ed Koch.

Fui con el a Centro América en plena guerra civil, conocí el liderazgo latinoamericano durante sus últimos cuatro años cada vez que visitaban la Gran Manzana. Inclusive, bajo el liderazgo del entonces alcalde de Bogotá, Andrés Pastrana y Ed Koch, organicé la primera reunión cumbre sobre las drogas de alcaldes del mundo. Me envolví en su política pública tratando de disminuir el crimen, rehabilitando cientos de miles de viviendas asequibles. Ayudé a conseguir los espacios donde se construyeron media docena de escuelas en el entonces asignado distrito escolar del Alto Manhattan. Y bajo su dirección, ayudé a coordinar la campaña para que docenas de miles de inmigrantes sin documentos se acogieran a la amnistía del 1986.

Trabajé arduamente en su fallido intento de convertirse en el único alcalde en servir por cuatro periodos. Y cuando perdimos frente a David Dinkins, me nombró miembro de la Junta de la Corporación de Salud y Hospitales para que siguiera sirviendo a la ciudad que el amaba y que yo había adoptado como mi hogar.

Siempre iba con el a la Parada Puertorriqueña, y por cierto tengo todas sus guayaberas que un día me regaló cuando ya era ciudadano privado. La última vez que fui con Ed Koch a la parada, hace más de una década, el fue uno de cuatro neoyorquinos destacados cargando retratos del Reverendo Sharpton, del asambleísta José Rivera, del entonces presidente del Bronx Adolfo Carrión y de mi socio y amigo de siempre Roberto Ramírez, cuando ellos fueron arrestados y encarcelados por querer que la marina norteamericana parara el bombardeo de la isla de Vieques en Puerto Rico.

Por los próximos 22 años lo seguía viendo en veladas en su apartamento en el Village, en almuerzos privados y en los encuentros que Diane Coffey organizaba con otros miembros de la familia gubernamental de Ed Koch. Me llamó y le envió un regalo a mi hija cuando ella casó una década atrás. Luego cuando nació mi primer nieto me llamó para felicitarme y como el parto ocurrió en el antiguo Hospital St. Vincent, a cuadras de su apartamento, tomamos café. Cuando organicé una leída para recaudar fondos para que me hijo Lin-Manuel pudiera seguir adelante con su proyecto de In the Heights, Koch estaba allí, y cuando In the Heights abrió off-Broadway, Koch dijo presente. Inclusive cuando Lin-Manuel recibió un doctorado honorífico de la Universidad Yeshiva, Ed Koch se sentó con nosotros por horas hasta que le colocó la medalla doctoral a mi hijo.

Como todos los neoyorquinos, y especialmente aquellos que lo queríamos mucho, pensábamos que Ed Koch viviría eternamente. Almorcé con él antes de las navidades y como siempre me preguntó como estaban Lucecita, Lin-Manuel, Miguelito y Luz.

Sentí que su cuerpo estaba débil pero seguía con la misma agilidad mental con la que deleitaba al mundo. Ahora sus restos descansarán para siempre en Washington Heights, en el Manhattan de su alma y en el vecindario que yo adoro.