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Upper West Side's David Koch Often Mistaken for Billionaire Namesake

By Leslie Albrecht | November 21, 2011 7:01am | Updated on November 21, 2011 7:05am
David Koch, a lifelong Upper West Sider, sometimes receives mail for billionaire philanthropist David H. Koch. The two had lunch several years ago.
David Koch, a lifelong Upper West Sider, sometimes receives mail for billionaire philanthropist David H. Koch. The two had lunch several years ago.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

UPPER WEST SIDE — A few years ago, a mysterious package was hand delivered to an Upper West Side advertising executive's apartment. The outside of the parcel was marked only with an elaborate "Q."

Inside, a letter explained that a "top-secret" security firm wished to offer its services to the advertising executive. The firm promised utmost discretion in securing the executive's home, as well as his "air vessel" and "sea vessel."

That's the kind of mail you receive when your name is David Koch. The misguided missive was intended for David H. Koch, the billionaire industrialist who, with his brother Charles, presides over Koch Industries, a global corporation of 70,000 employees.

Instead the package ended up with David Koch, an Upper West Sider who's president of an ad agency with a staff of less than a dozen.

David Koch vs David H. Koch
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Billy Figueroa

As he'd done many times before, David Koch forwarded the "Q" package to his more-prominent namesake. He included a note saying he wouldn't recommend the security firm's services, because they hadn't done a very good job of tracking down their would-be client, who currently sits at No. 18 on Forbes' list of the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $22 billion.

Such mix-ups have been a regular occurrence for David Koch, 79, over the years. And though there are hundreds of men with the same name across the country — LinkedIn shows more than 100 in the New York area alone — a spokeswoman for David H. Koch said the Upper West Side David Koch is the only one of the namesakes who's ever had lunch with the multi-billionaire.

"He was a down-to-earth regular guy who likes to laugh," David Koch, a genial man who grew up on the Upper West Side where his family owns the Town Shop lingerie store, said more than a decade after he dined with David H. Koch. 

"He's the kind of guy who once he knows you, if you need something, you could probably go to him. I think he’d be very approachable."

Likewise, New York's reportedly second richest man remembers the other David Koch warmly.

"I really appreciated his sense of humor, too," David H. Koch, 71, said through a spokeswoman. "Having met the other David Koch over lunch a few years ago, I can say I think I'm in very good company. I'm glad to hear that he is doing well and wish him continued success."

The two met for the friendly face-to-face after years of mistaken identity by the U.S. Postal Service. In the 1980s, David Koch had an office in the Lincoln Building at 60 E. 42nd Street, when David H. Koch's business address was 161 E. 42nd Street.

The similar names and addresses resulted in a stream of incorrectly delivered mail, and David Koch began forwarding the correspondence to his counterpart, he said.

"I would send him whatever I thought he wanted to see," Koch said, adding that he would attach personal notes with the mislaid correspondence.

One day in 1996, David H. Koch's secretary called him with the suggestion that the two meet for lunch.

They did, and it was on David Koch's dime, he remembers with a chuckle. Koch's advertising clients at the time included Pan Am, so he took David H. Koch for lunch at the Wings Club, a meeting space for airline executives then on Vanderbilt Avenue.

“Since it was my club I ended up paying, so I say he owes me a lunch," joked David Koch.

David Koch says he sometimes has fun with the confusion over his name. Recently a telemarketer called to hit him up for a donation to Lincoln Center, asking if he'd like to top his previous contribution.

"I said, 'listen, I already have my name on one of your buildings,' and she stopped her pitch," said David Koch, jokingly referring to the former New York State Theater, which was renamed the David H. Koch Theater after a $100 million donation in 2008.

David Koch regularly receives invitations to posh events whose organizers mistakenly think they've contacted the deep-pocketed Koch. Once he RSVPed yes to a "nice function" at the Forbes Magazine galleries on Fifth Avenue.

Most people will probably assume the David Koch listed on this committee is the billionaire philanthropist, said David Koch, Upper West Side namesake to David H. Koch.
Most people will probably assume the David Koch listed on this committee is the billionaire philanthropist, said David Koch, Upper West Side namesake to David H. Koch.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

"They were very happy I was coming. Obviously they thought I was him," Koch said.

Some of the confusion likely stems from the fact that David Koch lives in the San Remo building on Central Park West, where Steve Jobs, Bono and Steven Spielberg have owned apartments.

He's also received mail intended for David H. Koch from struggling individuals who are desperate for financial help, and from needy organizations, like a church in the deep South that asked for money to fund building repairs.

Once another Koch even mixed up the two Davids. Former Mayor Ed Koch was introduced to David Koch at the Rainbow Room a few years ago, and immediately blurted, "I know you, you're the guy who bought Jackie O's apartment!"

David Koch had to explain that he was not, in fact, the man who purchased Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's five-bedroom Fifth Avenue pad, which David H. Koch later sold for a reported $32 million.

“I had to explain to Ed that I was closer to being an Ed Koch than a David H. Koch," said Koch, who pronounces his last name like the former mayor's.

And though protesters aligned with the Occupy Wall Street movement have recently marched in the streets condemning David H. Koch for his donations to conservative political causes, the other David Koch says he considers his doppelganger role with a sense of humor.

"I take it as a light-hearted connection," said David Koch, a registered Democrat who's donated money on occasion to Democratic candidates and volunteered for Ruth Messinger's mayoral campaign.

"It's always been a fun thing. I haven’t gotten too much flack over it, I guess mainly because his charitable contributions have been so remarkable."

It's not uncommon, for example, for acquaintances who've just visited the American Museum of Natural History to ask him if that's his name on the fourth-floor David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing — a flattering, but incorrect, assumption.

David Koch has worked with and donated to several nonprofits that support the blind, the homeless and autism research. But he admits that his super-rich counterpart bests him when it comes to charitable largesse.

"He probably beats me," Koch said. "A big contribution for him would be $50 to $100 million. A big one for me would be closer to $5,000."