I remember Mayor Koch in 1983. I interviewed him for Le Matin Magazine, a weekly supplement to A French daily and leftist newspaper Le Matin de Paris, where my editor was Jean Dominique Bauby, Jean Do.(Yes the guy from the The Butterfly and the Diving Bell!).
The magazine is long gone, the Butterfly has escaped behind close lids and Mayor Koch is dead.
I remember the man larger than life, impressive, and, like many New Yorkers, I have a special thought for him today.
I was a young journalist and interviewing Koch was not a piece of cake. I had prepared my questions thoroughly and tried to shut my ears to various comments from fellow journalists: « Mayor Koch is the worst interviewee ». « All he does is talk and does not answer questions. » Bla, bla bla..
As I arrived at the Mayor’s office, I relied on Gallic charm to operate. (Well if the man was not homosexual as rumor said…). After all he was a Francophile. He had fought the Second World War in France, landed in Normandy with the allies on D-Day. Usually those who did so and were lucky enough to come back, had a sweet spot for France they had liberated.
But my questions that day were different and tricky. In that issue dedicated to New York, published in March 1983, I wrote the first magazine story on AIDS published in the French press, reporting on Homosexuals in Greenwich Village.(entitled “Rien ne va plus à Christopher Street”(All is wrong on Christopher Street). The interview with the Mayor was focused on this touchy subject. What was Mayor Koch doing to help Gays infected by the virus who unlike their counterparts in San Francisco received little help from the city. With a special question from Bauby: Was Mayor Koch gay himself?
It all started on a wrong foot with Mayor Koch asking questions. He had been elected in 1981 and so had Francois Mitterrand in France. The first move of the new French President had been to appoint communist ministers. Ed Koch was democrat, but America’s left was far from socialism. « How was it to have a very socialist government? How was it to have communist in the forefront? ». I could hardly place a line. I remember Mayor Koch talking nonstop and explaining persuasively what he was doing for the community touched by the deadly disease and how he had defended them against the others. Behind his informal talk, it was all double speak or better said in France la langue de bois (literally to have a tongue in wood).He was a genius in communication and PR.
Was it that same year or the year after? The youngest elected mayor of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to New York to meet with Koch and learn a few useful tips about political communication!
Incredibly enough I found a cover of the issue on the Net