As a dumb Californian, I knew Ed Koch mainly as the guy who replaced Judge Wapner on the People’s Court. Later I learned he was also a congressmen and an influential, three-term mayor of New York City. His career path is hard for Californians to understand, because here, it usually goes reality show host, mayor, then congressman, whereas Koch did it all in reverse. In any case, Koch, a Neil Barsky documentary about him, opens today in New York, and in the saddest and best promotional tie in, Ed Koch died today of congestive heart failure.
“Koch” offers evidence that the combative mayor had mellowed little in his later years. Filmmaker Neil Barsky conducted extensive interviews with Koch in his Manhattan apartment in 2010 and early 2011, where the former mayor, who ruled New York from 1978 to 1989, spoke of his controversial time in office, offering no restrictions on subject matter or time.
“He was living the life that any 86-year-old would envy,” Barsky says of Koch, who was 88 when he died. “He was out on the street, campaigning for obscure Democratic Assembly candidates, going up to Albany, having spirited political debates with his family over the dinner table. He remained a very funny, in-your-face kind of guy who loved to battle.”
A highlight of Barsky’s movie comes on the 2010 election night when Andrew Cuomo won the New York gubernatorial race. Koch is seen surrounded by adoring well-wishers, but, at evening’s end, goes home alone. [LA Times]
Koch never married and most people think he was gay, and even though he looks like a sweet old man from a Worther’s box, a lot of people think his fear of being outed kept him from doing more to address the AIDs epidemic ravaging New York during his terms.
Ed Koch is the subject of a new documentary that releases wide on Friday; it promises to be a much kinder depiction than the one in David France‘s Oscar-nominated film, How to Survive a Plague.
France, who was a journalist during the AIDS epidemic that ravaged New York’s gay community throughout the 1980’s and whose film shows footage of Koch arguing angrily with protestors, was critical of the then-mayor’s response to the health crisis, among other things.
“He presided over a city that was broken in many ways. It was broken in that it had a severe housing shortage, it was broken in that it had serious poverty with no social net, and then the hospital system was broken,” France said. “He had homelessness, he had a drug epidemic that was ballooning, and then we had this other mysterious epidemic that was filling hospitals. They were overflowing, and he was responding to none of that in an effective way. Instead, he was a pugnacious mayor, and he would respond to requests and really the pleas of his community with hostile retorts.”
“So here’s what it meant to people with AIDS: by the late 1980s, the hospitals were so over-packed that people with serious conditions related to their AIDS were not able to get into hospitals,” he continued. “People would go to hospitals and be put on gurneys in hallways, where they would spend the rest of their lives, before being seen by physicians, before being admitted into the hospital. And you would see that in all the hospitals. You would go in and you would see all these people just lined up against the wall, sick and emaciated. And he did nothing about that, and that’s his purview, that’s his system. He couldn’t fund research or find a treatment, but what he could do, he didn’t do.” [HollywoodReporter]
Koch never married and was hounded throughout his life by rumors that he was gay. He refused to comment on his personal life, telling New York magazine in 1998 that “there have to be some private matters left.”
“You definitely understood the price for being in the public eye,” Barsky says. “The price for him was that he did not have a lifelong companion.” [LA Times]
Well that’s about the saddest goddamn story ever. I’m gonna go grab a bottle of whiskey and cry in the bathtub for a while.
Kudos to both those news outfits for getting through that whole story without saying he died of a broken heart.