Remembering Ed Koch
Ed Koch died this past February. He was an iconic figure who should be remembered and revered for his independent thought.
A documentary, KOCH, by Neil Barksy, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, premiered in Los Angeles on March 1. This movie is very relevant today since it shows that there are a few liberals with sanity.
Barksy allows the moviegoer to see two narratives: Ed Koch as a candidate for mayor of New York and, once elected, how he started the transformation from a graffiti-filled, near-bankrupt, and crime-ridden city to a successful municipality. What makes the film interesting are the interviews with Koch, past and present. Barksy told American Thinker, "Koch agreed to participate without any stipulations, except wanting to view it before its release. He told me he wanted to take the reel to his grave."
Koch should be considered a politician before his time. He knew the importance of a grassroots effort, a concept Republicans might learn from. As an unknown candidate in 1977, he took to the streets, coining his famous line, "How am I doing?," engaging fellow New Yorkers in discussions about the city's woes.
After getting elected, Koch was encouraged to file for bankruptcy, but he decided instead to "beg" -- his word -- Congress for loans. It was during the early 1980s that he made the decision to stand up to the unions regarding pensions and salaries, realizing that with scarce resources, he had to say no to them. The movie uses the example of Koch not capitulating to the municipal unions during the 1980 MTA strike. The mayor went to the Brooklyn Bridge, where hundreds of New Yorkers were walking to work, and became a cheerleader, telling them, "Keep walking; we are not going to let them win. We are not going to roll over." Barksy also noted how the union leaders met with Koch and "told him that they wanted to be a partner with him. He responded, 'We are not partners, because I was elected by the people.' Throughout his political career he did not aggressively court unions."
Although many would describe Koch as a liberal Democrat, he supported many candidates on the other side of the aisle. The mayor endorsed Republicans such as George W. Bush in 2004, Rudy Giuliani, George Pakati, and Bob Turner, who won the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. Barksy is hoping that the viewer will see how Ed Koch retained his influence in New York twenty-plus years after leaving office.
Christopher Ruddy, editor-in-chief of Newsmax, called Koch a friend and wrote, "Koch joked to me once that if he endorsed one more Republican, he would have to leave the Democratic Party. But that was what the public liked: his courage to overcome party labels to bring people together and argue for causes larger than any party" -- including supporting capital punishment.
If for no other reason, conservatives might want to watch the movie to see Koch respond to New York Senator Charles Schumer. As the Democratic senator was giving his acceptance speech, saying what a pleasure it was to serve the people of New York, the camera pans to Koch as he says, "Bulls---." Barksy told American Thinker he put that scene in because Koch felt that, unlike himself, Schumer would never cross party lines on any issue.
American Thinker interviewed the former mayor two weeks before he died -- one of his last interviews. In hindsight, it is obvious that Koch once again felt that Schumer was not willing to separate himself from any Democratic policy. He sarcastically told American Thinker, "After Schumer and Boxer came out in support of Hagel, he will get confirmed. It is their responsibility now for reassuring the supporters of Israel."
American Thinker interviewed Ed Koch three times and found him to be a no- nonsense guy who never minced words. In KOCH, there is a scene that reflects Koch's personality completely. In 1977, there was a massive blackout in New York, with an incredible amount of looting. While running for mayor, Koch went into the black community and is seen talking with people, saying, "There is no excuse for looting, and I hope you agree with me on that." A young black man responded, "In a way, I do." Koch, in typical fashion, answered, "Not in a way. Completely."
The film also explores the issue of being a homosexual. There are many who believe that Koch was a closet gay, and the filmmaker asked him about this. His response: "I am not going to let it happen that the litmus test for any politician is their sexuality. I am taking the position that it is none of your f------ business." The movie shows how Koch had to personally endure a smear campaign, in his 1977 run for office, by Mario Cuomo, whose slogan was "Vote for Cuomo. Not the Homo." (Cuomo later disavowed this campaign strategy.)
Koch was correct that whether or not he was gay should be irrelevant. He believed in enforcing civil liberties and ending discrimination, which is acceptable today, as evidenced by what Rick Santorum once told American Thinker: "If people want to live their lives together and commit to each other, that is fine with me. I am all for people being able to contract for insurance, for people to have survivorship benefits, and for people having hospital visitation rights." While mayor, Koch signed an executive order in 1978 banning discrimination toward gays in government and in 1986 influenced the city council to pass it.
An eerie part of the film is when Koch is seen viewing his own tombstone. After having a heart attack and a stroke, this 88-year-old knew he was not invincible. As an ardent supporter of Israel and a very proud Jew who believed in G-d, he had these words written on his tombstone: "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish. Quote from Daniel Pearl just before he was beheaded by a Muslim terrorist. Hear O Israel, The Lord our G-d, The Lord is one." This epitaph is accompanied by a Hebrew inscription.
Ed Koch told Barksy, "I want to be relevant until the day of my death." He achieved his goal by being a very good mayor who planted the seeds for New York to recover; in short, he righted New York's financial woes through a balanced budget. Anyone who watches this documentary will see Ed Koch as he was: a charismatic figure with a great sense of humor -- and more importantly, an independent thinker. He will be sorely missed.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.