Ed Koch: Putting the "Public" in PR

Most readers of my blog probably don’t know much about–and maybe never even heard of–New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who died this week at age 88.  Koch served three terms from 1978-1990, and is often credited with turning the city around at a time when it was in terrible decline.  Ed Koch was also a public relations dream; he was accessible, opinionated, honest, colorful, proud, funny, and very media friendly.  Most importantly, he loved New York City and he loved people.

Edward Koch (1924-2013)

Edward Koch (1924-2013)

Brought up in Brooklyn, Edward Irving Koch was a decorated soldier in World War II, became a lawyer, and served in the City Council and the United States Congress before running for mayor.  After he left office he was a radio talk show host, author, online movie critic, and was even “The People’s Court” judge on TV.  He loved people, talking and joking and listening and asking his trademark “How am I doin’?” wherever he went.

Dr. Evan Cornog, dean of Hofstra University’s School of Communication and a former assistant press secretary to Mayor Koch, recently wrote in a Newsday op-ed that Koch’s success was more than good PR. “And what impressed me above all,” wrote Dr. Cornog, “was that nearly all the time, the question he was trying to answer was: What was the best choice for the entire city?”

Like every politician, Koch had plenty of folks who didn’t agree with him, but he still got an amazing 78 percent of the vote in his third run for mayor.  From a PR perspective, he put the “public” in public relations because he was able to take the city from its economic and emotional doldrums, in part, by becoming its cheerleader-in-chief.  He lifted people’s spirits by the sheer force of positive thinking.  For a dozen years he was the face of a city that was down but not out, and New York is a far better place today because of him.

Ed Koch is proof that putting people first is good politics and good PR. Today’s nasty, divisive, lobby-funded politicians should look to his example.  Your thoughts?

49 thoughts on “Ed Koch: Putting the "Public" in PR

  1. Brittni Hicks

    I honestly don’t know much about politics, but I do wish more political figures would be more like Mr. Koch. Instead of asking what is the best decision for the city or the people, like Mr. Koch did, they ask themselves what is the best decision for my career. I know many politicians have to be for issues they personally aren’t (or vice versa) because of their political backing. But imagine how much better our country could be if our political leaders were asking themselves what is the best decision for the country (or state, or city) when making decisions.

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  2. diane

    I was not familiar with Ed Koch prior to hearing about his death. I think it is great that a public figure really cared about the public. By acting this way he was able to be successful in public relations because he was personable and made connections with people in the community.

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  3. Jenny Rowe

    Growing up in Connecticut, I had never heard of Ed Koch until this past week, prior to his death. From what I have heard, he was an amazing individual and meant a lot to the people of New York City. I also agree that in order to be successful in a career and in life, everyone should take note of how personable Koch was. Especially for politicians of today, who should also doing what they can to help the people with the best of their abilities, like Ed Konch had.

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  4. Lola Odejobi

    I didn’t know anything about Ed Koch until recently because he was mayor before I was even born. All I’ve been hearing and seeing about him is that he was a politician that put people first and he loved the city of New York. I am sure there are politicians on the other side that don’t like him just because he is not in their party. It is rare for a politician to be well liked and recognized in this manner. I am sure that any PR would love to work with him because he already has a great reputation.

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  5. LucieSorel

    From watching the film previews for the new movie about Koch that came out this past week, he was clearly a man of the people. Simply from his use of eye contact and his friendly smile, Koch was able to capture the hearts and votes of millions of New Yorkers. This kind of true peoples people do not come around everyday. Edward Koch, from a Public Relations perspective was able to pursued his audience, New York City, into believing in his ideas as well as himself as a person. I would love to see the film about Koch because it captures his real personality and physical being. These were incredibly important in achieving his goals as mayor for three terms. Though it is very sad that we have lost such a brilliant man, Koch should be an example for politicians of today in how to relate with the public and improve times of crisis. I believe mayor Bloomberg is a similarly successful man of the people, though he is lucky enough to run a New York which was improved greatly due to Koch’s strong will and Public Relations skills.

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  6. Claire T.

    Honestly, I’m not huge on politics. Maybe it’s just that I’m far too concerned with my choice study or that I plan to move to Europe or Australia in the near future, but I don’t concern myself with politicians or politics in general. Despite my disinterest in the subject, I find it intriguing (and a little encouraging) to hear of a politician who put people first without looking for what can be gained by it. These days, I feel like these kinds of characters only exist in movies, television, and books. It could quite possibly be that I’m too cynical to believe in people acting without motives, but I suppose that’s just the nature of the music industry. Most times people like Ed Koch are overlooked or considered naive, but it’s still nice to know there are some Ed’s out there to root for.

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  7. Xavier Lofton

    Since Ed Koch was already out of office before I was even born I knew very little about him other than his name. It is delightful, however, to hear that there once was a time in which politicians actually acted in the best interests of the people they governed. It seems nowadays that the focus of many politicians is reelection instead. It is a shame that Koch is a person we talk about as if he was a dead or dying breed of human being. A politician with a genuine care for others sounds like a step in the right direction. Where are the rest of the Ed Koch’s in the world of politics?

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  8. Andrea Rebello

    To be completely honest, I am not one who follows politics very closely, and prior to reading this blog I knew nothing about Ed Koch. However, after reading this blog, I have to say that I have gained respect for him because of he carried himself as a politician. In today’s society, it is very common for people to assume that being nice gets you nowhere, and that you have to crush your competition on your way up the ladder so that you don’t have to face them on your way down. The fact that Ed Koch served 3 terms and received 78 percent of the vote in his third run for mayor shows how respected he was by New York. Ed Koch is a clear example of how putting people first, and always thinking of what is best for others, is still an option for becoming a successful politician, or a successful professional in general.

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  9. Apacker

    Having lived outside of New York my entire life I knew very little about Ed Koch prior to his death. The immediate rush of people discussing and praising his accolades on social media speaks volumes about how much he meant to NYC and its people. I had no idea that he won 78% of the vote in his third election, that pretty much says it all too.

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  10. skhuyhua

    While at my internship reading through newspapers the huge text either below or on Ed Koch’s pictures was always his tagline: “How am I doing?” I think it’s great that he put great emphasis on getting peoples’ opinions anywhere and from anyone. It also seemed as though that was all that mattered to him. He was obviously well known for not only his deeds as mayor but his persona of being open to the people which I think many politicians lack these days. They’re always trying to cover-up information or release as little as possible to the media which could create as sense of distrust between the politician and the people but Ed Koch was the complete opposite which was probably what got him re-elected several times.

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  11. rcardno91

    Ed Koch was certainly a man of great importance and influence. In addition to being one of only three New York City Mayors that I can name off the top of my head, (the other two being current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor Rudy Giuliani) he had former President Bill Clinton speaking at his funeral. I did not know much of Ed Koch’s life but as I watched the televised funeral service, I quickly got a sense of the kind of man he was. The speakers at the funeral conveyed a deep seeded respect and admiration for the former mayor. For a politician to be so revered by so many people is no small feat. American politics could use more men like Ed Koch.

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  12. Beckett Mufson

    I love this line: “Like every politician, Koch had plenty of folks who didn’t agree with him, but…” I love it because it sticks out to me as a journalist as something I would never write in a hard news article. When writing a press release or bio, though, one doesn’t have to attempt to objectively describe both sides of a story. A PR writer has the luxury of personal perspective. I am certain that Koch was a great mayor and a politician in rare form, but this piece is clearly written in his favor. I’m not saying this to disparage the piece, it is clearly well-written, but what I drew from it was a poignant example of the difference between news and PR.

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    1. jmorosoff Post author

      You’re right, Beckett: PR material, while mostly written in journalistic style, is not hard news nor does it have to be a balanced potrayal of an individual, institution or event. But you many be missing the point of a blog. A blog is often–if not nearly always–written from one point of view. Even when journalists blog, they express their own opinions and perspectives on the news. Blogs are not pure journalism nor are they pure PR; they are, at best, a hybrid and are very often merely a venue for self-expression. My blog is exactly that.

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  13. Ian Poulos

    After following the media coverage of Mayor Koch’s death, I noticed that there has been noteworthy emphasis placed on his character. His contribution and leadership were certainly discussed, but the focus is on his ability to interact with the people. James F. Gill, a lawyer who worked with Mayor Koch, explained that the former Mayor’s “most cherished possession was his reputation for honesty and integrity.” Based on the commentary from local residents and his colleagues, it appears that Mayor Koch’s trademark question – that is, “How am I doin’?” – demonstrated a sincere effort to relate with the people. Clearly, he was a loved and successful mayor. As evidenced by Mayor Koch’s example, relating with the public while maintaining a reputation characterized by honesty and integrity plays an important role in long-term success.

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    1. Drew Avery

      Edward Koch seemed to be a very inspirational human being for his selfless acts. I think he is a great example of a public figure. I believe his character shows true integrity and what it takes to succeed in todays modern world.

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  14. alexis gionesi

    I’ve never been too into politics, but from what I do know politicians are often seen as arrogant people who lie and walk over people to get to the top. Ed Koch however seems to not fit into the stereotypical politician category in which he is remembered as a man of character and someone who really put the success of the public as a whole first rather than his own success.

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  15. Jeremy Beck

    Strangely enough my first encounter of Ed Koch was seeing him as the judge on “The People’s Court”. Without any other knowledge of him at that time, he truly seemed like a personable(not always the case for a judge) and smart individual. The more I learned about him, and especially the recent coverage of him, showed that he was truly both those things. The accomplishment itself of a politician leaving behind a legacy of goodwill and honesty is quite a feat for a politician. I believe Mayor Koch was much more than a politician, he was a genuine person. Koch’s trademark “How am I doing?” seems to be remembered not as a patronizing question but as a heartfelt desire to always be improving. I had the pleasure of hearing an interview of him on The Howard Stern Show (not so often a forum politicians subject themselves to) which showed the true nature of a man who didn’t take himself too seriously, but never took his job and his obligation to the people lightly.

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  16. EMC

    I love learning about truly stand-up and relatable people in politics. The fact that one man could have such a diverse career shows how multi-faceted and genuine his interests were. Doing some quick research on his politics, he seemed like an adamant man in his opinions and a true leader who wasn’t afraid of making tough decisions that were often unfavored by some groups. Any politician who has his memoir made into an Off Broadway play surely had a significant impact on the life, not just politics, of a city. Cities like New York need leaders like Koch who are strong and uniting.

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  17. Alyssa Ciardullo

    Prior to reading this post, I had never heard of Ed Koch. I’m not very interested in politics which might be why; however, I do agree that in order to be a good leader you have to put the people you represent, or in this case the public, first. By doing that, you are respected, and create a good reputation for yourself in a non-selfish way. This then attracts the media to you, in a good way. It is very important to keep a good, positive relationship with the media because that is how the public decides how they will perceive you and your actions. Ed Koch sounds like he was a great man, leader, and politician.

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  18. aunaturalenyc

    It’s weird how a lot of the time, you never even hear of someone worth hearing about, until they have deceased. This sounds like a great man who should be admired and respected. As someone going into the field of PR, I could only hope that the people I work with carry the same mindset of “putting people first.” Reflecting on people who made a difference in some way, or who were just great people to have in the world, is what keeps our nation going!

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  19. Kristen Kelly

    Putting the public first as a public figure is the most important key to being a successful, respected politician. Most politicians come off as only looking out for themselves, but how they are viewed is the responsibility of their PR representative and their department. The PR person and/or people are responsible for maintaining a positive public view of the politician and getting out their key messages. The media plays an important role and having a good relationship with them is also key. I can say first hand, the media will take any press release or story they can get their hands on and portray it the way they want.

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  20. Nicole Chiarella

    I agree that putting the people first is important. The people are your backbone and you need their support for what ever you are pursuing. Ed Koch allowed himself to be more than just a mayor by capturing his audience and being elected into office three times. Everyone has a different opinion on topics and will continue to be against one side of an argument. That is something you cannot get passed. Ed Koch was loved by many and there were others who did not necessarily agree with him. I am not huge into politics but I do have my opinions and agree with some and disagree with others. We can only hope that the politicians are doing things that are for the better. But than again it is seen that government can be corrupt. Ed Koch was an honorable man and will be respected always.

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  21. Alex Hyman

    I did not know much about Ed Koch prior to hearing about his death. I have only heard great things about this man and it certainly does look as if he had a great impact on many people’s lives. From a PR perspective, it also appears that he was a great person to have to deal with. I assume it is tough to be in PR for a politician but because of Ed Koch’s way of working, it seems like it would have been easier to work with him.

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  22. Amanda Daley

    Although I am not familiar with Ed Koch it is nice to hear about a public figure who truly cared about the public. In order to be successful in the public relations industry, it is extremely important to be personable and easy to relate too.

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  23. kerrischreiber

    Any good public relations professional should always be thinking of the people. Ed Koch is a prime example because he knew what his people of New York City wanted and worked to give them just that. Having this type of a skill is part of a persons personality and something that I admire in any PR professional. To understand public relations, we must first understand the public. Understanding the public is probably one of the hardest tasks for anyone let alone someone who has to do this day in and day out as a job. What I take from Koch was that he loved his job and it was the perfect fit for him. I hope to one day live in a society where all politicians look into satisfying the citizens for all of the right reasons. Until then politicians like Koch are far and few and we should admire and respect him for all that he has done.

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  24. Erica Barnes

    As a Connecticut native, I was not familiar with Ed Koch before reading this. His legacy obviously shows the importance of being in tune with the general public. In today’s world this concept is often forgotten among politicians who are mainly interested in pleasing their investors and climbing the ladder. Perhaps Koch’s death will remind them of the positive effects of good public relations.

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  25. Marissa Dombkowski

    I did not know who Ed Koch was prior to reading this, but I wish I had. It is great to hear about such a renowned public relations practitioner who listened to the people first and then acted from there. A very important key in successful PR is being able to listen to your audience or consumer and hearing their thoughts and then taking what they have to say into consideration when coming up with a PR plan. Those interested in the world of public relations should look at Ed Koch’s contributions and keep his sincerity, his passion and his optimism in their thoughts.

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  26. Steve Morin

    It’s always refreshing to hear about politicians and political figureheads who are actually good people. Way too often we hear about politicians who are hypocritical, insensitive, or just plain cheap in times when they certainly shouldn’t. Not being from New York, I did not know who Ed Koch was until I learned of his passing, and did not know much about him until reading this post. Having a PR-savvy political leader can quickly inspire a city, as it clearly has with New York City.

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  27. Kelly Schnitzer

    Like so many Americans, I am innately skeptical of politics and therefore hold it in contempt. Naturally, I tend to believe that politicians make selfish decisions, which rarely coincide with the wishes of their constituents. As a public figure, it is a politician’s job to serve the needs of public, a duty which has been muddled because many politicians unethically seek to further their own agenda. Ed Koch was truly a rare breed in politics- not only did he take into consideration what New Yorkers wanted, but he delivered it. Regardless of party affiliation, I think that more politicians should look to Koch as an example of how to conduct themselves while in office.

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  28. Shurida Lundi

    I heard about his death in the news recently and I didn’t know who he was. I don’t keep up with politics and maybe I should but it’s sad that New York lost a good person because this state doesn’t have much of those. There’s this saying that my PR 100 professor told us and it was “Advertising we pay for, Good PR we pray for.” Ed Koch definitely had good PR seeing as how he served for three terms. Getting the public on your side is the important part of PR, that’s how you gain a good image and Koch was able to do that but showing how compassionate he was towards the people of NYC. In politics, it is hard to find someone who is honest and truly cares about the people. NYC has lost out a great person, he could have taught these new politicians a thing or two about being a genuine person.

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  29. Sasha Mirpuri

    I remember briefly talking about Ed Koch last semester in my PR 100 class. I am sorry to hear that he passed away. I hope we can learn from several things he put out there throughout his term as mayor– to think positively, for instance, because it can lead to great things. Ed Koch worried primarily about the people who surrounded him– this is key in public relations. He is definitely someone that we PR people should look up to.

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  30. gionnacerniglia

    Unfortunately, I did not know much about Ed Koch and was unaware of his death this past week. After reading this blog, it seems like he was an intelligent, humorous, and kind-hearted man, which are all great characteristics to have in a mayor of a large city. He seems like he was a great authoritative figure and many people looked up to him. It is unfortunate to hear that he passed.

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  31. Brenna Harran

    To deal with the public effectively, you must not just do what may be good for you or the name you represent, you must take into consideration what your people want and need, especially in such a large city like New York. I unfortunately did not know much about Ed Koch and I am from New York but over the past few days since his death, I read some of the great things he did for the city. You hear so many different stories about corrupt and lying politicians these days that you do not know what to believe but it is nice that a man representing New York was so well known.

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  32. Erica Mann

    I did not know much about Mr. Koch, but I could sense the impact he had on New York after news of his death. By listening to people talk about him I could tell that he was very well liked and had a real passion for what he did.

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  33. Sarah Caruso

    Good for him for actually caring about people’s thoughts and feelings! In today’s society, especially New York, people are all for themselves and don’t care about anyone else. That is why this country has failed so badly; it’s all about what “I” want and not what “you” want. If we don’t work together to help each other out then how is anything going to get done?

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  34. Mara Ruocco

    It’s nice to know that a public figure as important as him gave the city he represented a good name. This isn’t always an easy find. Being born and raised in Manhattan, Koch represented a lot of what the city stood for.

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  35. kristintellsall

    I think it’s great when people actually listen to the public. Both Ed Koch and Dean Cornog have represented the wants and needs of their public. Working in the School of Communication Dean’s Office it’s amazing how many times I’ve heard him think about the student body and what’s best for them. He genuinely wants to get to know students, their opinions, and their negative thoughts. On a bigger level I’m sure Ed Koch wants to understand the same thing. You can’t get reelected 3 times without knowing the positive attitudes and negative ones of the overall public. I personally have never heard of him. Maybe it’s because I’m out of state but I still think it’s great that he has this reputation.

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  36. nikkigyftopoulos

    It is clear that Ed Koch was a great contributor to not only the world of PR and government, but also to the society as a whole. It was honestly refreshing to read this post because positive and inspiring stories are lacking in today’s media. Mass media today is so focused on reporting scandalous and negatively focused stories that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that positive and successful people still exist. Ed Koch was obviously an inspirational leader and truly did put the “public” in public relations. I hope to see more people follow in his footsteps as the years progress. Our future lies in the upcoming generations and I hope to see new politicians, leaders, and members of society using a positive approach to their work like Ed Koch did.

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  37. Bert Cunningham

    As twentysomething press secretary on the NY State Committee on Transportation, I had the opportunity to meet Mayor Koch and work with his staff on NYC transit funding issues including MTA subsidies. While affable, he was always focused and knew how to get deals done. He was the right mayor at the right time and truly unique. I’m pleased I had the opportunity to know him.

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  38. aalvey

    After reading this I truly wish that I did know Ed Koch. Today there is so much negative discourse surrounding politics, but it would have been refreshing and, quite frankly, soothing to know that someone like Koch existed. I’m sure the man made his fair share of mistakes in life, but generally it seemed like his intentions were pure and his goals were set with the best of intentions for the general public. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and if there is ever a reason for the death of a human being we can only hope that it is to bring a positive outcome. Perhaps the death of Koch will motivate people and inspire them to practice some of the things that Koch did. Hopefully people will recognize his effortless success at good PR and follow his example.

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  39. Lauren Ciuzio

    That was a refreshing read. I have never been interested in politics, mainly because I feel most, if not all politicians are snakes. More public figures should carry themselves like Koch did, and put their public first and demonstrate the right kind of PR.

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  40. Amanda Torres

    Ed Koch has done great things for MANY people. Although I didn’t know too much about him, he was a phenomenal man from what I’ve read about him over the last few days.
    Hopefully, we can find more people in the future of PR who are as friendly/talented as Koch.

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  41. Christina Deecken

    Although prior to his passing I had little knowledge about Ed Koch, I’ve been coming across many tweets, facebook posts and articles about him in the last few days. It seems as though Koch had a special quality that is not often seen in politicians. He was able to relate to the public and gain their support because of his practical and genuine attitude. One Koch’s quotes I read that I found to be especially interesting stated, “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.” I think that because Koch was so real and honest, he was able to be accepted by such a high percentage of people. Hopefully future politicians will follow in his footsteps.

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  42. ccorte6

    I am ashamed to say that I have lived in New York my entire life and did not know who Ed Knock was; after reading this post I feel like he was definitely someone I should have taken notice of before this time. I think it’s remarkable that people who even shared different views than him still voted for him and I think it’s a testament to how much he must have shown that he cared about the people of New York; more politicians should be like this. Public relations is not about creating a facade image that you are good for the people, but having your actions match up to the image you create. Ed Knock succeeded in this and achieved so much for New York. Imagine what else could be accomplished if more were like him.

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  43. gmcillo

    Although I have never heard of Ed Koch prior to his death, after the tragic event I started to read all the news articles about him. I was interested to find out who this person was and why everyone was in mourning over him. Koch did not speak for a political side; he spoke for the people, which is how it should be. He listened to what New Yorkers had to say and took action accordingly. If all politicians had the same mind set maybe society wouldn’t be so tainted. PR is having the public interest at hand at that is exactly what Koch did for his three terms. In honor of Koch, politicians should want to learn and take after his successful political and PR career.

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  44. kblevick

    I was never into politics until this past election when I volunteered for the presidential debate at Hofstra. However, after reading this blog post it’s safe to say that Ed Koch was a PR wonder. It really shows that he cared about the city which is probably what the city needed at the time and still needs. The interest of a politician should be the people they govern and that is exactly what Koch did for 3 terms. Such a shame that his ideas and himself had to leave us, but what a good run he had!

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    1. blarouche

      Like you, I was never really into politics until the debate came to Hofstra this past fall. I also know very little about Ed Koch seeing as how I am not from the New York area. I agree though that Koch seems like a PR wonder. He seems to have been a character who was always working to ensure that he was making as many people happy as was possible since it is impossible to please everyone in politics.It was almost in his nature to have the type of character that makes good PR. It is sad to hear that such an iconic person has passed but it seems he left behind a positive mark.

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  45. janabanana12

    In order to be any public figure, one must have the relational skills to deal with the public. The fact that Ed Koch served 3 terms alone shows that he had great people skills, and being able to turn around NYC of all cities is a great, yet difficult accomplishment. Though I was unfamiliar with Ed Koch, I agree that in order to be successful in a career and in life, politicians should admire how personable he was. So much of society today is corrupted; it would be nice to have someone in office is genuinely cared for the good of the people, because that is what public relations is. Even if you’re a fry cook, you could deal with public relations day-to-day. While we study it, people act on it naturally, people like Ed Koch. He should be admired, respected, and forever thought of.

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