Ed Koch’s Lucky Losses

The legendary mayor endured two fortuitous losses in his early political career: one while campaigning against Eisenhower, and one that helped him avoid Albany, “a fate worse than death.”
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: When did you decide to get involved in politics?

Ed Koch: Not actually until I did. I went into the Army in 1943 after attending CCNY for two years. When I came out of the Army, I was 22 years old, I was still living in my parental home and I ultimately went to law school, NYU School of Law, and I became a lawyer in 1949.

In 1956, I moved to Greenwich Village, where I still live, in a different place but in the Village. And to find friends and get acclimated and so forth, I joined the local political club which was then supported Adlai Stevenson and I became their street speaker and supported Adlai in 1956 and again in 1960 when he ran against Ike Eisenhower and was defeated on both occasions. And that was my introduction into politics.

I became very active in the club, The Village Independent Democrats and in 1962, when they were seeking to run against the so-called regular member of the assembly, Bill Passananti, who belonged to Carmine De Sapio's club, he being the County Leader at the time, Carmine. And they couldn't find anybody to run and so I volunteered, and I lost. I was lucky that I lost otherwise I would be in Albany today and that would be a fate worse than death.

So, I ran again the following year, this time against Carmine De Sapio, who as I said, was the County Leader having been defeated in 1961 and running for election again in 1963, it being a two-year term, or two-year election. It was difficult to find someone who would oppose him, I volunteered again and I defeated him in an election where about 9,000 people voted and I won by 41 votes.