|Review by Rich Redman|
Any time you experience biographical material, whether it’s a movie, a book, a presentation, or anything else, you need to ask two questions:
Does it matter?
Is it critical?
In the case of Koch, the 2012 biography of Edward I. Koch and his 1978-1989 terms as Mayor of New York City, it’s easier to answer the second question first.
The movie avoids most of the faults of hagiographies, which are not critical at all. It is up-front about the African-American communities’ disappointment in Mayor Koch after he closed Sydenham Hospital, the frustration of the gay community over the Mayor’s inaction during the AIDS crisis, the PVB scandal that tarnished his last term in office, and his failed gubernatorial campaign.
The movie is also critical on a personal level.
It highlights his refusal to speak openly about his sexuality. It does not shy away from his love of spectacle and his need to be the center of attention. He comes across several times as a shallow person more concerned with how he looks than with issues.
It’s relevance is simply undeniable.
First, in 1977, New York City was on the edge of bankruptcy. A significant part of Ed Koch’s campaign was that his predecessor, Abe Beame, was a poor manager and was incapable of finding a way out. Then-President Gerald Ford had promised to veto any bailout plan for the city. With Detroit having gone bankrupt this year, how Koch got elected and dealt with New York’s debt and crime rate is extremely relevant.
As Russia cracks down on homosexuals in the lead-up to the next Olympic games, Mayor Koch’s interaction with the gay community grows in importance. Although he refused to ever discuss his own sexuality in public, he got the city to pass an anti-discrimination bill that protected LGBT citizens of the city, whether they worked in the public or private sectors. Yes, he denied the corruption and cruelty in the NYPD, and yes, he moved slowly in the wake of the AIDS crisis. His record is not unblemished. In my opinion, that just makes his record more interesting.
It is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Doctor Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Koch became mayor of a deeply divided city. Here, again, his record is not clearly one way or another. He promised community leaders to keep Sydenham Hospital open, and then closed it as part of his balancing the city budget. He passed an anti-discrimination bill, but was too much of an opportunist to be considered an ally or a supporter of any one group.
Let me share a few names with you: Ed Koch ran for mayor against Mario Cuomo. Mario Cuomo was either Lieutenant Governor or Governor of New York for Koch’s entire time of office. Cuomo left office as late as 1994. His son became governor, with Ed Koch’s endorsement, in 2011.
When Ed Koch was mayor, Rudy Giuliani was either a US Associate Attorney General, or US
Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It was Giuliani who broke the PVB corruption scandal during Koch’s third term. Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York from 1994-2001.
Ed Koch’s political legacy is still alive in New York. The events from his time as mayor continue to shape a city where 1 in every 25 Americans lives. And the city’s influence is extensive. It is one of America’s broadcasting hubs. New York television and radio continue, even in the Internet age, to influence a wide surrounding area. That boots the importance of any biography of Ed Koch.
The 105th Mayor of New York City, Edward I. Koch, passed away in February, 2013. He was a World War II veteran, who earned his Combat Infantry Badge in the Battle of the Bulge and the Hurtgen Forest. He represented his state in the United States Congress, and he was a tremendously influential mayor.
If you know nothing about him, this film will help you understand his importance as an American political figure. If you remember his time as mayor, this film is an excellent opportunity to look back.