FRIENDS and foes alike wondered how former New York Mayor Ed Koch could survive life after political defeat. They said the man who once told New Yorkers he wanted to be their mayor for life - who seemed to live and breathe politics every second of his 12-year tenure as New York's mayor - would fall apart after losing his bid for a fourth term last year.
``People predicted that I would kill myself or go crazy,'' says Mr. Koch. ``But I'm doing just fine, thank you, I'm enjoying myself a lot and making lots of money.'' Koch has turned himself into a mini-conglomerate, estimated to bring in approximately $2 million this year. He'll make some 40 speeches, addressing business organizations, religious groups, and college audiences at $20,000 a speech.
Koch's other activities include daily radio commentaries, a weekly newspaper column, a law practice, a consultant's job with a real-estate company, teaching at New York University, and TV ads for Ultra SlimFast diet formula.
Koch has joined a growing list of ex-politicians who continue to seek public limelight after leaving, being defeated, or - in several cases - being removed from office after being convicted of crimes.
``It used to be [that] former politicians would fade into the woodwork after leaving office,'' says Donald Walker, president of the Harry Walker speaker agency. ``Not anymore.''
Besides Koch, Mr. Walker books speaking engagements for former President Ford, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, and former House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neil.
Among the radio talk-show hosts are former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and two former indicted mayors, Providence, R. I., Mayor Vincent (Buddy) Cianci and San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgehock.
Mr. Cianci's show started shortly after the mayor left office in 1984, after being convicted of beating up a man his estranged wife was having an affair with. The five-year-old show was recently taken off the air when Cianci announced he was running for mayor again.
But Mr. Hedgecock's show still is number one in its morning time period after 4 1/2 years. The show started six weeks after the mayor was sentenced to a year in jail.
Hedgecock was found guilty of concealing election funds and accepting illegal contributions. That conviction was thrown out on Sept. 6 by the California Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial for the former mayor.
EVEN politicians who have not gained prominence on a national level, such as former congressmen and state legislators, are making the lecture circuit a career after politics, according to Al Wallen, vice president of the National Speakers Association in Phoenix.
``I speak to many trade organizations whose members want to know how they can influence politicians,'' says Sommers White, a former Arizona state legislator, now a full-time public speaker.
Bernie Swain, executive vice president of the Washington Speakers Bureau, whose client list includes former President Reagan, says television is responsible for the interest in former politicians.
``People see the politicians when they are in office on television,'' he says. ``They become personalities to the viewer.''
But Bob Dreyfuss, a spokesman for the Public Citizens, a watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader, says the undertakings of many former politicians are ``disgusting.'' He cites television ads by Tip O'Neil and Koch as prime examples of what's wrong with the political system.
``These former politicians are just trading on their names to make money,'' he says.
Koch maintains there's nothing wrong with making money. ``I was making $60,000 during my first years as mayor while young lawyers just out of school were making $80,000,'' he says. ``I gave up the most productive period of my life. Now I'm making up for it.''
Waller says Koch is one of his most popular clients. ``He tells it the way he sees it,'' Walker says. ``He has a real gift for gab and people like it.''
Hedgecock says he's enjoying himself a lot more as a radio talk-show host than he did during his stint as mayor.
``I'm giving people an understanding of the political system and having a lot more impact,'' he says. ``I call myself a reforming politician.''