Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch Dead at 88

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch has died, the NY Post is reporting:

KochKoch had been in and out of the hospital in recent months, and was admitted Monday at New York Presbyterian Medical Center. He was moved to intensive care yesterday as his condition worsened. Koch – who served as mayor from 1978 to 1989 – died at about 2 a.m. today, sources said.

The three-term mayor and former congressman was first elected to City Hall in 1977. Since leaving elected office, he has worked as a lawyer and remained an active presence on the city’s political scene. He also appeared as the judge on the TV show “The People’s Court” for two years.

From the NYT obit:

By the usual standards of measuring a former mayor’s legacy — the city he inherited, the challenges he faced, the resources available to meet those challenges and the extent to which his work endured beyond his term — historians and political experts generally give Mr. Koch mixed-to-good reviews.

Most important, he is credited with leading the city government back from near bankruptcy in the 1970s to prosperity in the 1980s. He also began one of the city’s most ambitious housing programs, which continued after he left office and eventually built or rehabilitated more than 200,000 housing units, revitalizing once-forlorn neighborhoods.

Politically, Mr. Koch’s move to the right of center was seen as a betrayal by some old liberal friends, but it gained him the middle class and three terms in City Hall. He was also the harbinger of a transformation in the way mayors are elected in New York, with candidates relying less on the old coalition of labor unions, minority leaders and Democratic clubhouses and more on heavy campaign spending and television to make direct appeals to a more independent-minded electorate.

A lifelong bachelor, the former mayor had said it's unacceptable for people to ask if he's gay since the 70's, when placards surfaced in his mayoral race against Mario Cuomo that said "Vote for Cuomo, not the homo!"

At the time of the Cuomo allegations, Koch said: "No, I am not a homosexual. If I were a homosexual, I would hope I would have the courage to say so. What's cruel is that you are forcing me to say I am not a homosexual. This means you are putting homosexuals down. I don't want to do that."

Koch also expressed anger a year ago at how he was portrayed in Kirby Dick's film Outrage, which outed closeted politicians — not because the film said he's gay (which it did), but because he said the film defiled his record (the film claims his record on AIDS and gay rights was virtually nonexistent).

Said Koch to Page 6: "It's a [bleep]ing outrage. Bella Abzug and I, in the early '70s, introduced in Congress a bill that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation…And when we later said the law applied to contractors doing business with the city, the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army sued me. In 1984, I was the first mayor to march in the Gay Pride Parade. I was the first mayor to appoint openly gay judges."

Late last year, Koch took the time to review How to Survive a Plague, but was blasted by AIDS activists featured in the film for not mentioning his own failed response to the AIDS crisis.

As part of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in New York in 2011, Koch recorded a video in support of New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.

Koch was 88.


  1. Lars says

    The guy was not a gay rights hero, and neither was he an anti-gay villain. He had a mixed record on LGBT issues. Isn’t it enough to say that?? I’m so tired of everything being reduced to simplistic ‘all-or-nothing’ dualities. Life — and people — are too complex for that kind of lazy analysis.

  2. chasmader says

    Ed Koch, RIP.

    You were a good mayor and a good man.

    I don’t care what others say. I lived in NY when you were mayor and I saw the good you did and what you were up against.

  3. MT says

    I remember his reelection campaign. There was some woman who would say “Keep the may-ah, may-ah!” That accent sticks with me to this day.

    He was a decent guy. Isn’t that all we can ask of someone?

  4. QJ201 says

    Koch will always be a coward to me who was afraid of dealing with AIDS in NYC because it might have gotten people focused on his closet.

    In terms of HIV/AIDS, Koch is up there with Reagan and Mbeki as those who stood by and let the epidemic spread.

  5. ratbastard says

    My biggest memory of him as mayor were the rumors he smoked weed, and in public with his police bodyguards standing by. I never knew if this were true, but it became something of an urban legend. He was mayor in what was a bad period for urban America. I always got the feeling he was basically a decent guy.And he was far better than what came before him, and the 1 term may-ah David Dekins, who came after him

  6. says

    Did you see the movie “Outrage?” It made a far more personal connection to Koch than that.

    This film alleged, rather convincingly, that Ed Koch exiled a former lover, Richard Nathan, out of New York, threatening him. Nathan died of AIDS…alone.

    The more I know about this man, the more I find it hard to be very forgiving.

  7. Smartypants says

    Koch was a closeted gay man. When an ex-boyfriend was interviewed by the mayor for appointment to a city commission, Koch kept making passes at him and afterward an aide told him, “The mayor likes you. I mean he REALLY likes you.” Koch did a decent job during a difficult period in NYC, but he utterly failed on AIDS. That cannot be forgotten or forgiven.

  8. Cd In DC says

    saw recent movie on him in Palm Springs and thought at this advanced age of 86 then, can’t he just finally tell the truth? Think it was director’s fault for not pushing him or even agreeing to do without an answer.

  9. ratbastard says

    How does [or did] someone like him manage to keep so much hushed up, even ‘exile’ former lovers, as alleged? That’s pretty impressive. I suppose it was more easily done in the pre-internet era, but still. Clinton couldn’t even get a blow job without the whole world knowing.

  10. anon says

    He became extremely unpopular in the gay community for closing down the bathhouses as his primary effort to stop the spread of AIDS, and which really heralded the start of city-wide gentrification.

  11. Profe Sancho Panza says

    Koch did an indisputable amount of good in his life, though (of course) not as much good as he could have done. That’s all most of us can hope for on our final balance sheet.

  12. Mary says

    If Koch was closeted, I think we should try to understand the era in which he came to politics. In the 1970’s there was really no way of knowing what the future held for gay rights. Kock had reason to be concerned how revealing his secret would affect his political future. Not all New Yorkers are/were socially liberal – and he wanted to be a mayor that reached a broad constituency.

    As for the bath houses, I don’t know much about the whole issue. But I’d think that if he saved the lives of gay men, it was the right thing to do. What good is equality if you aren’t alive to enjoy it?

    RIP Ed Koch.

  13. kdknyc says

    In regards to closing the bath houses: Closing venues where education on risk reduction could be accessible, wasn’t a good idea. I lived in San Francisco during that time, and the politicians felt they needed to “do something”. Bath houses were just a convenient political target. It was a way of appearing to “do something” without actually taking effective, though “politically unpopular” action.

    The reality being, that people would continue to have sex, but now it was taken underground in a sense. This made education much more difficult. But it made the moralists feel better, thinking they were stopping those people from having sex. Much more important, that.

  14. paul morgan says

    “He became extremely unpopular in the gay community for closing down the bathhouses as his primary effort to stop the spread of AIDS, and which really heralded the start of city-wide gentrification.”
    ~ anon.

    is that supposed to be a good thing?

    are you postulating that casual gay sex was more detrimental to society than the age of conscious-less excess that in addition to “gentrification” also “heralded” the start of wall street traders and international bankers stealing 80% of the nations wealth, and delivering into the hands of the 1%? destabilizing the world’s economy in the process?

    proof we continue to learn nothing from our own, and others epic mistakes and moral failings. millions of victims dead and dying from AIDS around the world, and all some of you self loathing, clueless queens can glean from this grotesque caricature of a man’s life is that he made new york city “prettier”?

    he became “extremely unpopular with gays” for denying (like president Reagan and others at the pinnacle of power) the very existence of the disease, and looming global pandemic.

    he is hated for ignoring the informed pleas of the gay, medical, and scientific communities to act while there was time to meaningfully stem the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    he is loathed for not living up to his own largely meaningless pronouncements that LGBT citizens are inherently equal. by internalizing homophobia, parsing his own inherent identity, and buying into the belief that he was “less than” others in self worth and human value, he was tacitly complicit in demeaning ALL of us in society – especially in the eyes of his power brokering, “gentrifying” cronies.

    turns out, the joke was on him. turns out, he was – inherently “less than” those of us who struggle in anonymity to live lives of quiet dignity, attempting to be of service to others like us, who are at risk, and in need.

  15. Gigi says

    I’m tired of people saying that Koch was a product of his times. That he did what did, or didn’t do, because that’s the way it was back then.

    @T re: “sounds like he did a lot for the gays. was it really his fault if we kept going to bathhouses? and didn’t use condoms?”

    Are you a troll? Sounds like he did a lot for “the gays?” The bathhouses were closed in 1985. Had Mayor Koch not been a closeted, self-loathing homophobe and admitted that the epidemic existed, countless lives could have been saved. Instead he remained silent. If you don’t know what you’re talking about – if you weren’t alive at the time and were lucky enough not to lose more than half of your friends to Aids – please educate yourself so you’ll know what you’re talking about. Until then, remain silent.

  16. Lars says

    What exactly was he supposed to say about AIDS? An acknowledgment of suffering from those in authority is certainly welcome. But the fact is that everyone already knew that anonymous and/or unprotected sex was dangerous and risky, with potentially debilitating consequences. This wasn’t the first STD on the scene. I never expected my mayor to be my middle school health teacher.

    The way this guy gets demonized, you’d think he banned condoms or something.

  17. paul morgan says

    Lars~ i find comments like yours incredibly naive and extremely offensive:

    “But the fact is that everyone already knew that anonymous and/or unprotected sex was dangerous and risky, with potentially debilitating consequences.”

    “what was he supposed to say”?

    i’ll let David France, the director of How to Survive a Plague address your ignorance:

    “As I pored through the hundreds of hours of archival footage for my documentary film How to Survive a Plague, that fact stood out above any other as a probable explanation for why he seemed to lack even the faintest stirrings of empathy when the AIDS crisis came. As has been chronicled repeatedly, Koch stood silent through years of headlines, obituaries, and deaths. He refused meetings with community members, Larry Kramer chief among them. Administratively, he created inter-departmental committees and appointed liaisons, but he gave them neither power nor resources to do anything real. By January 1984, in the epicenter of a ballooning epidemic when tens of thousands of New Yorkers were infected and 864 were already gone, Koch’s New York had spent a total of $24,500 in response.

    To be fair, no mayor could have stopped the virus from its diabolical campaigns in the bloodstream. But in the days before cell phones and the Internet, when the New York Times still refused to use the word gay and the hometown gay newspaper sold just 6,000 copies — a time when it was impossible to reach the at-risk community outside of the mainstream — he could have shown leadership. He could have promoted risk reduction and community education. This is what was done in San Francisco, where Dianne Feinstein was mayor. The money and the bully-pulpit worked. The epidemic there, while devastating, was nothing like it became in New York.

    Koch’s failure in AIDS should be recalled as the single-most significant aspect of his public life. The memories of all we’ve lost deserve no less.”

  18. Lars says

    “Koch’s failure in AIDS should be recalled as the single-most significant aspect of his public life.”

    Seriously? Analysis like that, coming from self-appointed gay leaders, is myopic and self-serving. To boil this guy’s lengthy career down to one issue — the one issue we just so happen to care most about — is laughable.

    I said in my comment, Paul, that an acknowledgement by Koch would have been welcome. But the condemnation of the man is really overboard. The guy was the mayor of millions, not the health teacher for those who weren’t paying attention in school. Neither was it his job to restrain those who made the autonomous choice to pursue a reckless rather than a cautious course.

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