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Ed Koch recalled for restoring post-crisis city

Mayor Ed Koch at the conclusion of the

Mayor Ed Koch at the conclusion of the State of the City address. (Jan. 30, 1985) Credit: Ari Mintz

When Edward I. Koch took over on Jan. 1, 1978, as mayor, New York City had lost about 7,500 cops in the 1970s fiscal crisis, arsons were rampant and many judges were picked through political patronage rather than merit.

"We had enough cops to drive radio cars and answer 911 calls," recalled Robert J. McGuire, Koch's first police commissioner.

But through innovation, budget finessing and the force of his personality, Koch will be remembered for turning those situations around.

One of Koch's main tasks was to beef up an NYPD depleted by layoffs and morale problems. The department had about 24,000 uniformed officers, down from 32,000, and homicides topped 1,500. However, Koch built the force up to more than 25,000 in 1985 and again got boots on the ground, without interfering with police brass, McGuire said.

"We put cops in the field in neighborhood stabilization units," recalled McGuire. "I think Ed was restoring a sense of pride in the city and a sense of pride in the police department."

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, tapped in 1980 by Koch to be fire commissioner, remembered the arsons plaguing parts of the city. Hynes said Friday that he proposed increasing the fire marshal program and turned to Koch for help after he got resistance from City Hall budget managers.

"He said 'go with it,' " said Hynes, about the extra fire marshals.

Merit selection of criminal and family court judges, without interference from political bosses, may be Koch's major legal legacy, said Robert G.M. Keating, who served as criminal justice coordinator from 1980 to 1982.

"That was a real sea change that continues to this day,"Keating said. "It took an extraordinary person to do that."

'It was something he was inordinately proud of as mayor," Keating said.

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