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December 22, 2014

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Our Ed Koch is here to say he’s still kickin’

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AP and Las Vegas Sun photos

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, left, and former Las Vegas Sun staffer Ed Koch.

Ed Koch dies at 88

 In this March 23, 2010 file photo, former New York Mayor Ed Koch speaks during a publicity event in New York. Koch says he and has his New York Uprising group are securing commitments from several candidates for governor to improve the critical redistricting process if elected. Launch slideshow »

I’d love to have a nickel for every time someone has asked me if I were related to the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch.

No. I only have the same name, I’d find myself constantly explaining. We’re not even distant cousins. He’s Jewish. I come from a long line of Catholics. His last name is pronounced cotch while mine is cook. His middle name is Irving. Mine’s Bryce. He’s quite homely, while I’m …well, you get the idea.

Ex-Mayor Ed Koch died Friday of congestive heart failure in his native New York. He was 88.

Although we never met, our paths did sort of cross once in my duties as a Sun reporter, including a futile effort to track him down for an interview after he made an ill-advised – make that really stupid – comment about Nevada.

It was the mid-afternoon of June 4, 1986, when then-assistant Sun City Editor Jerry Ralya called me to his desk and handed me a wire story about Koch addressing the New York Citizens Crime Commission on the city’s ever-burgeoning drug trafficking problem.

The story quoted Koch as saying that those who were caught selling drugs in New York should be rounded up and put in a “barbed-wire tent camp in the Nevada flats.”

“If we can quickly localize this we’ll have our banner for tomorrow’s paper,” Ralya said. “You’ve got three hours (before deadline). Get cracking. This should be easy for you. After all, aren’t you Mayor Koch’s second cousin?”

“No, boss, I’m not…”

Hizzoner’s opinion did not set well with Nevada leaders, who were struggling with addressing Las Vegas’ growing drug problem and did not need New York’s busted drug dealers as our “guests.”

“The mayor’s comments are in very poor taste,” then-Clark County Commissioner Thalia Dondero told me. “He can keep New York drug pushers there and we’ll take care of ours here. We don’t need him telling us how to do it.”

Then-County Manager Pat Shalmy, making reference to plans to dump radioactive nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, quipped: “We now have a fourth site we can recommend for a nuclear repository – New York City.”

The banner story in the June 5, 1986, Sun editions read: “Koch selects Nevada for dope dump,” by Ed Koch, Sun staff writer.

Our switchboard got at least 20 calls that day from readers asking if Koch was related to Koch.

And I knew that calling the New York City mayor’s office to try to get Koch on the phone would be probably harder for me than anyone else.

A secretary asked me for my name, affiliation and phone number for someone to call me back.

“It’s Ed Koch – that’s E-D K-O-C-H.

“No sir. Not the mayor’s name. Your name please.”

“That is my name! It’s the same name as his. It’s my curse! I’ve had that name for 29 years!”

About an hour later, I got a call from one of Koch’s aides, Tom Kelly.

“The mayor was serious about the proposal,” Kelly told me. “(He cited) that it is a lot cheaper to put drug dealers in the (Nevada) desert … than to build a 16-story jail (in New York).”

He added that the mayor’s comments “were not meant to make Nevada a dumping ground for drug pushers. The mayor meant no disrespect to Nevada. He loves the state.”

In fact, Kelly said, Nevada “just popped into” Koch’s mind and was not included in the mayor’s printed text for that speech.

With today’s headlines prompting some concerns among old friends, I’d like to report that I am not yet dead.

RIP Ed Koch.

Ed Koch is a former Las Vegas Sun reporter.

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