THE BLOG

Ed Koch in Paris

02/06/2013 01:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013
  • Joan Z. Shore Paris columnist, author of 'Saging' and 'Red Burgundy'

Jacques Chirac was elected mayor of Paris in 1977; Edward Koch was elected mayor of New York in 1978. The two were destined to meet just a few years later when Koch made a week-long visit to Paris -- specifically, to find out how another great metropolis was run.

I was the CBS News correspondent in Paris at the time, and WCBS in New York assigned me to the Koch visit.

"Meet with him every day, at the end of the afternoon, and find out what he's been doing, what he's learned, and send us a story," I was told.

It was an assignment from heaven. As a born-and-bred New Yorker who had been living overseas for more than a decade, I was thrilled to reconnect with my roots, my heritage. And in a curious way, to be the link between these two men, and my two cities.

The rapport between Koch and Chirac was immediate and sincere. Both were relatively new in their jobs, and both were dealing with specific problems: Koch had to transform a city that was ridden with crime and on the verge of bankruptcy; Chirac had to establish leadership in a city that had not had a mayor for decades.

And so they met every day, and I had the luck to chat with Koch every afternoon.

He was open, amiable, relishing every minute of his visit. Overwhelmed by the beauty of Paris, delighted to make friends with Chirac. After their first day together, they were calling each other "Ed" and "Jack."

Chirac liked to brag that he spent one summer in Cambridge, Mass., taking courses at Harvard and "soda-jerking" at a drugstore in Harvard Square. His English was rudimentary, but he loved to show off what little he knew. In any case, Koch knew no French, so the two men were ably served by interpreters.

There was one sticky point. New York was just starting to implement its scoop-the-poop regulation. Chirac admired the idea but he said flatly, "It will never work here. The French will never clean up after their dogs." (A few years later, Paris did adopt the plan. It was followed for a while, but is frequently ignored today.)

At the end of his visit, Koch gave me a little envelope. Inside was a tiny lapel pin -- a golden apple. I cherish it.