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New York, NY - Ex-Mayor Ed Koch Dies At 88 (photos)

Published on: February 1, 2013 06:17 AM
Last updated on: February 1, 2013 10:18 AM
By: AP
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(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

New York, NY - Former Mayor Ed Koch, the combative, acid-tongued politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during a three-term City Hall run in which he embodied New York chutzpah for the rest of the world, died Friday. He was 88.

Koch died at 2 a.m., spokesman George Arzt said. The funeral will be Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

After leaving City Hall in January 1990, Koch battled assorted health problems and heart disease.

The larger-than-life Koch, who breezed through the streets of New York flashing his signature thumbs-up sign, won a national reputation with his feisty style. “How’m I doing?” was his trademark question to constituents, although the answer mattered little to Koch. The mayor always thought he was doing wonderfully.

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Bald and bombastic, paunchy and pretentious, the city’s 105th mayor was quick with a friendly quip and equally fast with a cutting remark for his political enemies.

“You punch me, I punch back,” Koch once memorably observed. “I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”

The mayor dismissed his critics as “wackos,” waged verbal war with developer Donald Trump (“piggy”) and mayoral successor Rudolph Giuliani (“nasty man”), lambasted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and once reduced the head of the City Council to tears.

“I’m not the type to get ulcers,” he wrote in “Mayor,” his autobiography. “I give them.”

When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, Koch, a Democrat, crossed party lines to support him and spoke at the GOP convention. He also endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election efforts at a time when Bloomberg was a Republican. Koch described himself as “a liberal with sanity.”

In this July 16, 1984, file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch raises his hands with two thumbs up while addressing the opening session of the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz, File)In this July 16, 1984, file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch raises his hands with two thumbs up while addressing the opening session of the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz, File)

He was also an outspoken supporter of Israel, willing to criticize anyone, including President Barack Obama, over decisions Koch thought could indicate any wavering of support for that nation.

In a WLIW television program “The Jews of New York,” Koch spoke of his attachment to his faith.

“Jews have always thought that having someone elevated with his head above the grass was not good for the Jews. I never felt that way,” he said. “I believe that you have to stand up.”

Under his watch from 1978-89, the city climbed out of near-financial ruin thanks to Koch’s tough fiscal policies and razor-sharp budget cuts, and subway service improved enormously. But homelessness and AIDS soared through the 1980s, and critics charged that City Hall’s responses were too little, too late.

Koch said in a 2009 interview with The New York Times that he had few regrets about his time in office but still felt guilt over a decision he made as mayor to close Sydenham Hospital in Harlem. The move saved $9 million, but Koch said in 2009 that it was wrong “because black doctors couldn’t get into other hospitals” at the time.

“That was uncaring of me,” he said. “They helped elect me, and then in my zeal to do the right thing, I did something now that I regret.”

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 1980, file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch gestures as he escorts Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan into Gracie Mansion in New York. Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died at age 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Koch died Friday morning Feb. 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff, File)FILE - In this Oct. 17, 1980, file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch gestures as he escorts Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan into Gracie Mansion in New York. Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died at age 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Koch died Friday morning Feb. 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff, File)

Among his favorite moments as mayor was the day in 1980 when, seized by inspiration, he walked down to the Brooklyn Bridge during a rare transit strike and began yelling encouragement to commuters walking to work.

“I began to yell, `Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We’re not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!’ And people began to applaud,” he recalled at a 2012 forum. His success in rallying New Yorkers in the face of the strike was, he said, his biggest personal achievement as mayor.

In this March 15, 1987 file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch gets his head powered by a make-up artist before the start of his new television call-in program, In this March 15, 1987 file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch gets his head powered by a make-up artist before the start of his new television call-in program,

His mark on the city has been set in steel: The Queensboro Bridge - connecting Manhattan to Queens and celebrated in the Simon and Garfunkel tune “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” - was renamed in Koch’s honor in 2011.

Koch was a champion of gay rights, taking on the Roman Catholic Church and scores of political leaders.

A lifelong bachelor, Koch offered a typically blunt response to questions about his own sexuality: “My answer to questions on this subject is simply, `F—- off.’ There have to be some private matters left.”

He was fast-talking, opinionated and sometimes rude, becoming the face and sound of New York to those living outside the city. Koch became a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and playing himself in a number of movies, including “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and “The First Wives Club” and hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

In 1989’s “Batman,” the character of Gotham City’s mayor, played by Lee Wallace, bore a definite resemblance to Koch.

When Koch took over from accountant Abe Beame in 1978, one thing quickly became apparent - with this mayor, nothing was certain. Reporters covered him around the clock because of “the Koch factor,” his ability to say something outrageous any place, any time.

After leaving office, he continued to offer his opinions as a political pundit, movie reviewer, food critic and judge on “The People’s Court.”

Koch remained a political force in Albany well into old age. He secured a promise in 2010 from then-aspiring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a number of state legislators to protect the electoral redistricting process from partisanship - and then vocally protested when Cuomo and others reneged on that pledge two years later.

In this Dec. 14, 1980, file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch stands among Beatles' fans paying tribute to the late John Lennon during a silent vigil that was called by Mayor Koch in New York's Central Park. (AP Photo/Rene Perez, File)In this Dec. 14, 1980, file photo, New York Mayor Ed Koch stands among Beatles’ fans paying tribute to the late John Lennon during a silent vigil that was called by Mayor Koch in New York’s Central Park. (AP Photo/Rene Perez, File)

Even in his 80s, Koch still exercised regularly and worked as a lawyer for the firm Bryan Cave.

At his 80th birthday bash, Bloomberg said Koch was “not only a great mayor and a great source of advice and support to other mayors, he happens to be one of the greatest leaders and politicians in the history of our city.”

He was in the hospital twice in 2012, for anemia in September and then for a respiratory infection in December. He returned twice in January 2013 with fluid buildup in his lungs.

He had undergone surgery in June 2009 to replace his aortic valve and had gallbladder surgery a month later. He had a pacemaker inserted in 1991 and was hospitalized eight years later with a heart attack. In early 2001, he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924, the second of three children of Polish immigrants Louis and Joyce Koch. During the Great Depression, the family lived in Newark, N.J.

The future mayor worked his way through school, checking hats, working behind a delicatessen counter and selling shoes. He attended City College and served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II, earning his sergeant stripes.

He received a law degree from New York University in 1948 and began practicing law in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, where his political career began as a member of the Village Independent Democrats, a group of liberal reformers. He defeated powerful Democratic leader Carmine DeSapio, whose roots reached back to the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine, in a race for district leader.

Koch was elected to the City Council and then to Congress, serving from 1969-77 as representative for the “Silk Stocking” district that was then known for its millionaire Park Avenue constituency.

The liberal Koch was the first Democrat to represent the district in 31 years. But his politics edged to the center of the political spectrum during his years in Congress and pulled to the right on a number of issues after becoming mayor.

His answer to the war on drugs? Send convicted drug dealers to concentration camps in the desert. Decaying buildings? Paint phony windows, complete with cheery flowerpots, on brick facades. Overcrowded city jails? Stick inmates on floating prison barges.

Koch defeated incumbent Beame and future Gov. Mario Cuomo in the Democratic primary to win his first term in City Hall. Like his hero Fiorello LaGuardia, the fiery fusion party mayor who ran the city from 1933 to 1945, he ran on the Republican and Conservative party lines in the 1981 mayoral election.

He breezed to re-election in both 1981 and 1985, winning an unprecedented three-quarters of the votes cast. At the time, he was only the third mayor in city history to be elected to three terms.

While mayor, he wrote three books including the best-seller “Mayor,” `‘Politics” and “His Eminence and Hizzoner,” written with Cardinal John O’Connor. He wrote seven other nonfiction books, four mystery novels and three children’s books after leaving office.

Early in his second term, Koch flip-flopped on his pledge to remain at City Hall and decided to run for governor against then-Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo. But his 1982 gubernatorial bid blew up after Koch mouthed off about life outside his hometown.

“Have you ever lived in the suburbs?” Koch told an interviewer who asked about a possible move to Albany. “It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life.”

It cost him the race, but it convinced many of the 8 million city residents that Koch belonged in New York. Meanwhile, Cuomo went on to serve three terms as governor.

Koch’s third term was beset by corruption scandals. Queens Borough President Donald Manes - a close ally - committed suicide in March 1986, after having resigned over kickback and patronage allegations. Bronx Democratic leader Stanley Friedman and three others were also tarred. Koch’s commissioner of cultural affairs, former Miss America Bess Myerson, stepped down in the wake of a scandal involving her boyfriend and a judge overseeing a legal case concerning him.

This 1944 file photo shows Ed Koch during his service in the U.S. Army in France. (AP Photo/File)This 1944 file photo shows Ed Koch during his service in the U.S. Army in France. (AP Photo/File)

As the pressure grew, Koch suffered a minor stroke in 1987.

The administration was also beset by racial unrest, first after the 1986 death of a black youth at the hands of a white gang in Howard Beach and three years later after a black teen was shot to death in Brooklyn’s tough Bensonhurst neighborhood by a group of whites.

Six weeks after the second slaying, Koch lost the Democratic primary to the city’s eventual first black mayor, David Dinkins. Koch later said the simmering racial tensions didn’t lead to his defeat.

“I was defeated because of longevity,” Koch said. “People get tired of you. So they decided to throw me out.”

The man who bragged that he would always get a better job, but New Yorkers would never get a better mayor, left his City Hall office for the last time on Dec. 31, 1989.

Looking back, Koch said in a 1997 interview: “All I could think of was, `Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, I’m free at last.’”

He was finished with public office, but he would never be through with the city. At age 83, Koch paid $20,000 for a burial plot at Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space.

“I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone,” Koch told The Associated Press. “This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

FILE - In this Jan. 30, 1975, file photo, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, center left, and Bess Myerson, center right, walk with architect Philip Johnson, left, and Rep. Ed Koch, right, as they leave New York's Grand Central after holding a news conference for the "Committee to Save Grand Central Station." Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died at age 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Koch died Friday morning Feb. 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure. (AP Photo/Harry Harris, File)FILE - In this Jan. 30, 1975, file photo, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, center left, and Bess Myerson, center right, walk with architect Philip Johnson, left, and Rep. Ed Koch, right, as they leave New York's Grand Central after holding a news conference for the "Committee to Save Grand Central Station." Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died at age 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Koch died Friday morning Feb. 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure. (AP Photo/Harry Harris, File)

Not long after buying the plot, he had his tombstone inscribed and installed. The marker features the last words of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

It also includes a Jewish prayer and the epitaph he wrote after his stroke:

“He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.”


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Read Comments (42)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 01, 2013 at 06:44 AM bubble Says:

BD"E, yes definitely a colorful character.... May he rest in peace

2

 Feb 01, 2013 at 07:00 AM JerusalamiKugel Says:

BD"E- Will be missed

3

 Feb 01, 2013 at 07:16 AM Teddybear Says:

Didn't he buy a plot in a goyishe cemetery , let him rest in that goyishe peace

4

 Feb 01, 2013 at 07:17 AM Anonymous Says:

There are no Jewish cemetaries in Manhattan? He is being buried in a church cemetary? Why not near his parents or siblings? And his funeral is on Monday, why not today in keeping with Jewish tradition?
Baruch Dayan Emes. To his realtives ( though he never married or had kids)Hamakom yinachen etchem bitoch zion and yerushalayim.

5

 Feb 01, 2013 at 06:27 AM BD"E Says:

mayor ed koch will go away from this world and be remmberd with the legeicy of helping re-elect barack obama!

7

 Feb 01, 2013 at 07:44 AM Yitzchok Says:

At the time he bought the plot he also had it sectiond off. "Mi shemais be'erev shabbos Siman yoffoh hu". At the end of the day it seems he was most proud of his Jewish heritage, " ah yiddishe neshama" also you can't ignore that he died the same day as Daniel Perl whose last words are engraved on the mayors tombstone, rest in peace Mayor Koch, Boruch Dayan ha'emes

8

 Feb 01, 2013 at 07:49 AM Teddybear Says:

In English: Mayer Ed Koch has died Koch was 88.

בעברית:
בד"ה מאיר כץ מניו יארק נפטר בגיל 88

9

 Feb 01, 2013 at 07:52 AM qazxc Says:

Reply to #5  
BD"E Says:

mayor ed koch will go away from this world and be remmberd with the legeicy of helping re-elect barack obama!

He also did some pretty bad things so I don't think helping to keep Mitt Romney out of office makes him much of a tzaddik. Romney wouldn't have been much good but the country has survived worse.

10

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:00 AM Anonymous Says:

To #4 and #5: The Trinity Chuch cemetery is non-denominational and is the only cemetery left in Manhattan accepting burials. Koch stated many times he never wanted to leave Manhattan.

The matzevah features the last words of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl: "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish." It also includes the Shema and a mogen dovid.

Koch consulted with Rabbeim who advised to request that the gate nearest his plot be inscribed as “the gate for the Jews,” and the cemetery agreed. He was also instructed to have rails installed around his plot, so he ordered them.

11

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:01 AM DRE53 Says:

It's sad he didn't become a BT before he died.

12

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:04 AM NonniDev Says:

Ed Koch; flamboyant as ever. Buying a plot in a church cemetery is certainly a way to garner attention.

13

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:10 AM Materetsky Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

There are no Jewish cemetaries in Manhattan? He is being buried in a church cemetary? Why not near his parents or siblings? And his funeral is on Monday, why not today in keeping with Jewish tradition?
Baruch Dayan Emes. To his realtives ( though he never married or had kids)Hamakom yinachen etchem bitoch zion and yerushalayim.

There are heterim to wait, and it wuold be strange for a non-frum persno of such public stature to have a funeral in only 12 hours or so. So if they did rush it, it would likely be Shabbos.. better this way.

14

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:30 AM Secular Says:

Reply to #8  
Teddybear Says:

In English: Mayer Ed Koch has died Koch was 88.

בעברית:
בד"ה מאיר כץ מניו יארק נפטר בגיל 88

It's Mayor Edward Koch...not Mayer Koch...

15

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:35 AM Aryeh Says:

He was a mensch. Never mind frumkeit, he was always rodef shalom and ahavas Yisroel.

16

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:36 AM Anonymous Says:

To number 10:

What "Rabbeim"?


Anyway, to answer Koch's question, we now all know "how he's doin".

17

 Feb 01, 2013 at 08:48 AM independent_mind Says:

Really eerie: his matzeva has a quote of daniel pearl and he passed away the same (assumed) date as him!

18

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:01 AM bubble Says:

Reply to #1  
bubble Says:

BD"E, yes definitely a colorful character.... May he rest in peace

He also sat shiva for his late father as mayor with a proper minyan at all 3 minyanim.
More that this mayor did.

19

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:03 AM Kzler Says:

Reply to #3  
Teddybear Says:

Didn't he buy a plot in a goyishe cemetery , let him rest in that goyishe peace

change your pseudonym to hyena for your kind message

20

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:28 AM LEEAVE Says:

Reply to #2  
JerusalamiKugel Says:

BD"E- Will be missed

an alter goyisher bucher!

21

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:45 AM Brooklynhocker Says:

Reply to #18  
bubble Says:

He also sat shiva for his late father as mayor with a proper minyan at all 3 minyanim.
More that this mayor did.

This mayor was adopted by a jewish woman. Bloomberg will never say My Father.......

22

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:58 AM Teddybear Says:

(Reply to 14) also his name is Koch not Katz , u can't take a joke Mr Secular ?

23

 Feb 01, 2013 at 10:21 AM Kzler Says:

Reply to #20  
LEEAVE Says:

an alter goyisher bucher!

Leave it you are a yunger goyisher kop

24

 Feb 01, 2013 at 10:42 AM Howard Says:

Reply to #21  
Brooklynhocker Says:

This mayor was adopted by a jewish woman. Bloomberg will never say My Father.......

A total lie. Bloomberg was not adopted. Both his parents were Jewish. And by the way, what if he was adopted? Frumme beheimas like you are what make normal people hate Orthodox Jews. What a moron you are.

25

 Feb 01, 2013 at 10:43 AM clear-thinker Says:

Reply to #16  
Anonymous Says:

To number 10:

What "Rabbeim"?


Anyway, to answer Koch's question, we now all know "how he's doin".

What is the difference to you? What is the chance it is yours, who is the only one you would recognize any?
Mayor Koch, like all of us, made his choices in life. He chose where he was to be buried. If we agree with him or not is of little import. He will soon answer for his actions. So will we all.
I will not judge his actions at a time like this. Too many here know that their views are the only one which is correct.
Teddy Bear you have made your views known, although I don't know if this is the proper place. Do you really think that Koch's death is a time to try out your stand up comedy skills?
As to your comment as #3... are you really so sure that you won't have to answer for this type of comment when you are judged?
I end with the knowledge that Mayor Koch will be missed. He was quite the character, and if you followed his career a proud Jew and a lover of the Jewish people.

26

 Feb 01, 2013 at 11:00 AM PaulinSaudi Says:

A hell of a Mensch. A fine man, who will be missed. We will not see anyone like him again.

27

 Feb 01, 2013 at 11:44 AM PashutehYid Says:

He was a mensch, and very colorful. His Ask the Mayor program was hilariously entertaining on the car radio. I think he made up Fuggedaboutit.

All those who have negative comments to make about him and how the RBSH judges people should kindly share their expertise on why He allowed a Crusades, Chmielnicki, Holocaust, if you're such big experts.

He did the best he knew how and will be missed.

28

 Feb 01, 2013 at 11:54 AM shalomke Says:

The media won't forgive him for being pro Israel. RIP.

29

 Feb 01, 2013 at 11:56 AM maxedout Says:

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Koch about a year ago. I was able to tell him how much I appreciated him when he was mayor. He was a real gentleman. May he rest in peace. BDE.
And, to all those haters, please do all of us a favor and just shut up. He was more of a man that your dear friend Weberman and his type will ever be.

30

 Feb 01, 2013 at 12:19 PM Admirer of Ed Kochy Says:

I always liked Mayor Ed Koch; he was truly a people's Major. I saw him in Manhattan in 1978, at the Salute to Israel Parade. He traveled to EY many times, and was a good friend and supporter of Israel, and the Jewish people. Years later, he was the presiding judge on "The People's Court", where he always treated the litigants with courtesy and respect. Hence, I am shocked, at some of the rude and nasty comments that have been made about him on this site, regarding his religious observances. He may not have been as frum as some on this site may have liked, but he was a proud Jew. During World War Two, he challenged a fellow soldier, who as an anti-semite to a boxing match. Boroch Dayan Haemet! Mayor Koch, you will be missed!

31

 Feb 01, 2013 at 01:13 PM MonseyLuke Says:

BD"E - Mr. Mayor, you will be missed but always remembered. Luke

32

 Feb 01, 2013 at 01:29 PM Anonymous Says:

He was the first mayor to support gay rights in nyc. So he is going where all these rashaim go. He also almost choked eating treif.

33

 Feb 01, 2013 at 04:35 PM A-P-C Says:

A great mayor, a great man and a great and proud jew. Goodbye, Mr. Mayor.

34

 Feb 01, 2013 at 04:36 PM esther Says:

mayor koch met with the ambassador from the ukraine and said to him "isn't this a great country? back in the alte haim you'd be chasing me with an ax." you gotta love that.

35

 Feb 01, 2013 at 04:59 PM Anonymous Says:

I can't believe all these negative posts and only on this website. He was a dear man and gave a lot to charity, privately. I was a secretary when he donated to Jewish causes and he always donated anonymously.

36

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:20 PM marcia Says:

Reply to #32  
Anonymous Says:

He was the first mayor to support gay rights in nyc. So he is going where all these rashaim go. He also almost choked eating treif.

Your head wishes you would give it a break and stop sitting on it!

37

 Feb 01, 2013 at 09:50 PM Anonymous Says:

Mayor Koch always appeared to me to be a very ethically and socially conscious person. I admire his choice of burial in some respect for his dignity was so amused in such a way that his forgoing a jewish cemetery is not a major disadvantage to a man who has served the greater good of the public. Why not be buried with the public that he served. Blessings to his high hopes in the world to come!

38

 Feb 02, 2013 at 07:48 PM ayoyo Says:

a man of his stature should be laid to rest in City Hall Park or in the garden of Gracie Mansion

39

 Feb 02, 2013 at 08:59 PM Anonymous Says:

Yehi zichro baruch

40

 Feb 03, 2013 at 04:10 AM naisgal Says:

Reply to #18  
bubble Says:

He also sat shiva for his late father as mayor with a proper minyan at all 3 minyanim.
More that this mayor did.

Funny how Mayor Koch and Mayor Bloomberg, both Jewish, were mayors while single. Bloomberh is divorced, however.

41

 Feb 03, 2013 at 04:11 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #35  
Anonymous Says:

I can't believe all these negative posts and only on this website. He was a dear man and gave a lot to charity, privately. I was a secretary when he donated to Jewish causes and he always donated anonymously.

What bad posts? Everyone has said positive about him.

42

 Feb 03, 2013 at 04:15 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #32  
Anonymous Says:

He was the first mayor to support gay rights in nyc. So he is going where all these rashaim go. He also almost choked eating treif.

Why not remember all the good he did rather than focus on gay rights? He was reelected 3 times so most people thought "he was doing very well."
He never shied away from being Jewish and being pro Israel. He also appointed top people who saved New Yorkers from the financial mess NYC was in.

43

 Feb 03, 2013 at 04:22 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #21  
Brooklynhocker Says:

This mayor was adopted by a jewish woman. Bloomberg will never say My Father.......

Why do you make such unfounded posts? Adopted children are Jewish if they are adopted bu Jews and converted. Why mix that in anyway?

44

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