NEW YORK — Edward I. Koch, the master showman of City Hall, who parlayed shrewd political instincts and plenty of chutzpah into three tumultuous terms as mayor of New York with all the tenacity, zest, and combativeness that personified his city of golden dreams, died Friday. He was 88.
Mr. Koch’s spokesman, George Arzt, said the former mayor died at 2 a.m. from congestive heart failure. He was being treated at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital.
Mr. Koch had experienced coronary and other medical problems since leaving office in 1989. But he had been in relatively good health despite — or perhaps because of — his whirlwind life as a television judge, radio talk-show host, author, law partner, newspaper columnist, movie reviewer, professor, commercial pitchman, and political gadfly.
Flitting from broadcast studios to lunch meetings and speaking engagements, popping up at show openings and press conferences, Mr. Koch, in his life after politics, seemed for all the world like the old campaigner, running flat out.
Only his bouts of illness slowed him down, most recently forcing him to miss the premiere on Tuesday of “Koch,” a documentary biographical film that opened Friday in theaters nationwide.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg praised Mr. Koch as “an irrepressible icon, our most charismatic cheerleader and champion,” calling him “a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend.”
Mr. Koch’s 12-year mayoralty encompassed the fiscal austerity of the late 1970s and the racial conflicts and municipal corruption scandals of the 1980s, an era of almost continuous discord that found Mr. Koch caught in a maelstrom day after day.
But out among the people or facing a news media circus at City Hall, he was a feisty egoist who could not be pinned down by questioners and who could outtalk anybody in the authentic voice of New York: as opinionated as a Flatbush cabby, as loud as the scrums on 42d Street, as pugnacious as a West Side reform Democrat mother.
“I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers,” the mayor — eyebrows devilishly up, grinning wickedly at his own wit — enlightened the reporters at his $475 rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village on Inauguration Day in 1978. “Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.”
His political odyssey took him from independent-minded liberal to pragmatic conservative, from street-corner hustings with a little band of reform Democrats in Greenwich Village to the pinnacle of power as New York’s 105th mayor from Jan. 1, 1978, to Dec. 31, 1989. Along the way, he served two years as councilman and nine in Congress representing the East Side of Manhattan.
With his trademark — “How’m I doin?” — Mr. Koch stood at subway entrances on countless mornings wringing the hands and votes of constituents, who elected him 21 times in 26 years, with only three defeats: a forgettable 1962 state Assembly race; a memorable 1982 primary in a race for governor won by Mario M. Cuomo; and a last Mr. Koch hurrah, a Democratic primary in 1989 won by David N. Dinkins, who would be his one-term successor.
Edward Irving Koch was born in Crotona Park East in the Bronx, the second of three children of Louis and Joyce Silpe Koch, Polish Jews who had immigrated to New York separately in the early 1900s.
Mr. Koch was drafted into the Army in 1943 and earned two battle stars in Europe as an infantryman. He was a sergeant when discharged in 1946.
Mr. Koch, who never married and had no children, wrote 17 books, including one with his sister, Pat Koch Thaler, a small volume, “Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother,” which appeared in 2004. His brother, Harold M. Koch, a carpet distributor, died in 1995. Besides his sister, a former dean at New York University, Mr. Koch leaves New York itself, as an old friend put it a few years ago.
“The city was and is his family,” said Maureen Connelly, a former press secretary and veteran political adviser. “We used to be scared about what would happen to Ed if he lost. We said it would be best if he just died in the saddle. But he never had any intention of getting off the horse.”