Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City
    Book Description:

    In 1978, Ed Koch assumed control of a city plagued by filth, crime, bankruptcy, and racial tensions. By the end of his mayoral run in 1989 and despite the Wall Street crash of 1987, his administration had begun rebuilding neighborhoods and infrastructure. Unlike many American cities, Koch's New York was growing, not shrinking. Gentrification brought new businesses to neglected corners and converted low-end rental housing to coops and condos. Nevertheless, not all the changes were positive-AIDS, crime, homelessness, and violent racial conflict increased, marking a time of great, if somewhat uneven, transition.

    For better or worse, Koch's efforts convinced many New Yorkers to embrace a new political order subsidizing business, particularly finance, insurance, and real estate, and privatizing public space. Each phase of the city's recovery required a difficult choice between moneyed interests and social services, forcing Koch to be both a moderate and a pragmatist as he tried to mitigate growing economic inequality. Throughout, Koch's rough rhetoric (attacking his opponents as "crazy," "wackos," and "radicals") prompted charges of being racially divisive. The first book to recast Koch's legacy through personal and mayoral papers, authorized interviews, and oral histories, this volume plots a history of New York City through two rarely studied yet crucial decades: the bankruptcy of the 1970s and the recovery and crash of the 1980s.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52090-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-11)

    When Ed Koch became mayor of New York in January 1978, the city was filthy, dangerous, and nearly bankrupt. Under his predecessor, Abraham D. Beame, New York was being run by the Emergency Financial Control Board, a group of business, labor, and public officials appointed by the governor that had reduced elected officials, including Mayor Beame, to “mere spectators,” according to the influential banker David Rockefeller. The New Yorker expected Koch, who was six feet one, to be a “tall Abe Beame,” a mediocre politician who would let bankers and technocrats run the city while he looked on. Instead, he...

    (pp. 12-28)

    When Edward Irving Koch arrived in the world on December 12, 1924, his family lived in one of the nicest buildings in the Bronx, 1680 Crotona Park East.¹ From the window his mother could see the large green expanse of Crotona Park, named for the rushing waters of the old Croton Aqueduct that once ran nearby. The street was known as the “Central Park West of the Bronx,” a neighborhood for Jews who had made enough money to emerge from the tenements but not enough to penetrate the bourgeois Jewish enclave on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

    The family’s fortunes seemed...

  6. 3 IT TAKES A VILLAGE (1949–58)
    (pp. 29-39)

    In 1952 Koch never thought that he would become a national political figure. For one thing, few lived at home with their parents. Koch would not move out from under the constant bickering of his parents until he was thirty-two years old. In the summer of 1956 Pat Koch, who had become an administrator at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, heard that a coworker’s friends were renting a house together at Fair Harbor on Fire Island. Ed, who did not know anyone in the group, joined Pat’s friends and had a such a great time on the...

  7. 4 “RHYMES WITH NOTCH” (1959–64)
    (pp. 40-52)

    Family crisis interrupted Koch’s political career in 1960, when surgeons performing a routine gall bladder operation on his mother discovered that she had metastasized cancer. The surgeon estimated that she had three months to live. The word cancer in those days was almost unmentionable, and to Ed’s later regret the doctors never informed her of her diagnosis, though she must have known from the nature of the treatments she had to undergo. When alone with his mother, Ed put a brave face on the situation and tried to give her hope of recovery. When he left her to drive home...

    (pp. 53-69)

    Koch’s life changed fundamentally when he became assembly district leader in January 1964. For the first time he felt the thrill of making banner headlines, becoming an instant hero to liberal voters who barely knew how to pronounce his name. To his admirers the tall, rangy Koch was the Man Who Beat Carmine De Sapio—a Jewish version of the character, played by Jimmy Stewart, who vanquished a local political boss in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Another, less obvious, parallel was that in the movie Jimmy Stewart confesses that he really owed his victory to the gun power...

    (pp. 70-80)

    Koch did not stay district leader for long after Lindsay’s election in the fall of 1965, as he won a seat on the New York City Council the next year. At his swearing-in ceremony, Lindsay’s parks commissioner, Thomas Hoving, called him “a rebel with reason,” a moniker that Koch, many years later, changed to “a liberal with sanity” as he moved to the right and positioned himself to run for mayor.

    Despite Koch’s crucial endorsement of Lindsay, the new mayor had appointed a conservative Republican banker, Woodward Kingman, to fill the vacancy on the city council created when the incumbent...

  10. 7 KOCH’S CORRIDOR (1969–76)
    (pp. 81-94)

    When Ed Koch arrived in Congress, the vitality of the Democratic leadership was embodied in the dozing form of Speaker John W. McCormack, who slept in his chair as Nixon addressed the nation. To the old bulls who ruled Congress in January 1969, Koch seemed like a man from outer space. He was one of only fourteen Jewish members for most of the time that he served in Congress, and when he arrived, none of the others had reached the most senior levels.¹ Anti-Semitism still flourished on the Hill in those days, sometimes manifesting itself as intense rural and suburban...

  11. 8 “A LIBERAL WITH SANITY” Koch as the Anti-Bella
    (pp. 95-104)

    As early as 1969, a time one might consider the most freethinking in Koch’s career—he was devoted to amnesty for draft resisters, liberalization of marijuana laws, mass transit aid, and ending the war in Vietnam—Koch showed definite limits to his liberalism. During a 1971 demonstration, when more radical members of Congress allowed demonstrators affiliated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War to sleep on their office floor, Koch refused. More significantly, the left-liberal columnist Jack Newfield accused him of red-baiting, after an incident at a rally at Hunter College on November 13, 1969.

    During a rowdy meeting—nihilists with...

  12. 9 NEW YORK Divided and Broke (1973–77)
    (pp. 105-120)

    Ed Koch set his sights on the mayoralty after a mere eighteen months in Washington, although seven years would pass before he attained it. Running for higher office is a far chancier route to real power than waiting out the seniority system, but Koch quickly tired of the D.C.–New York shuttle. For a member of Congress, New York’s mayoralty is the only elective office worth having that does not require a current office holder to resign in order to run.

    Koch’s 1970 reelection to the House by a huge majority, then unheard-of for a Democrat in his historically Republican...

    (pp. 121-144)

    The indefatigable Ed Koch shivered and shook hands at subway entrances, an early-morning routine that went back to his first days in politics almost two decades earlier. It was January 1977, and his mayoral prospects seemed chillier than the winter air. He was polling at 2 percent, and his campaign had little cash on hand. Despite his successes in Washington and among his own constituents, some pundits and political pros dismissed Koch as a bohemian representative from Greenwich Village, a lightweight with little clout outside Manhattan, known for issuing blizzards of statements nobody ever read. Koch kept shaking hands. This...

  14. 11 THE CRITICAL FIRST TERM (1978–81)
    (pp. 145-160)

    Ed Koch ostentatiously rode a city bus to his inauguration. Robert Allison, the driver of the M-6 bus that took the mayor-elect from his home on West Fourth Street to city hall on Inauguration Day, told him: “Do a good job for us.” According to a New York Times/Channel 2 News poll, 59 percent of New Yorkers believed Koch would make the city government more “competent and effective,” in contrast to the worn-out image of the outgoing Beame administration.¹

    Koch’s role model was Fiorello H. La Guardia, the “Little Flower,” who has been called the “inventor of the modern mayoralty”...

    (pp. 161-174)

    As a new mayor Koch had to meet the demands for reform and increased efficiency while forging alliances with the leaders of the regular county Democratic machines: Donald Manes of Queens, Stanley Friedman of the Bronx, and Meade Esposito of Brooklyn. These demands were not always compatible, but as one of his closest friends observed, Koch had no choice “because you can’t govern otherwise. . . . You don’t deal with the Borough of Queens unless you can figure out how to live with Donny Manes.”¹

    Koch had spent his political youth fighting the regulars, but he owed the Brooklyn,...

  16. 13 SHAKE-UP (1979–80)
    (pp. 175-203)

    The year 1978, the shakedown cruise for Koch’s new activist regime, was a whirlwind of appointments and budget and labor negotiations. But 1979 supposedly was the year when “nothing happened”—or, at any rate, when little of importance changed from the way things had been the year before, according to veteran city hall reporter Andy Logan. The mayor continued his frenetic pace. He kept constant company with the press, complete with unmissable photo opportunities: “Koch hugging a giant Paddington Bear, Koch with his chin out announcing that he will not be intimidated by some group of demonstrators, who, like more...

  17. 14 CONTROLLED FUSION Or, to Koch or Not to Koch (1980–81)
    (pp. 204-227)

    In January 1980, with reelection on his horizon, Koch wanted more than reelection. He wanted a landslide.¹ Such a goal required the subtlety to sail between incumbent president Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan toward the mayoral nomination of both major parties, which was possible because of New York’s unique tradition of cross-endorsement. Carter’s primary challenger, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, had the unofficial backing of his fellow Irishmen Governor Hugh Carey and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which made Koch the most important elected official supporting Carter in New York. Kennedy seemed unlikely to win the presidency, though his policy positions,...

  18. 15 GOVERNOR KOCH? (1982–83)
    (pp. 228-240)

    After his smashing victory Koch had achieved everything he had been aiming for politically for the past four years, although city services and infrastructure remained inadequate. Despite the landslide, his second inauguration on a rainy New Year’s Day was far more low key than his first. Held in the dramatic and sumptuous marble rotunda of the Surrogate’s Court building across from city hall, Koch did not even buy a new suit for the occasion and read his speech “phlegmatically,” according the Times. “What can I say? The first time can never be fully matched,” Koch declared. Even the metaphors of...

  19. 16 LARGER THAN LIFE (1984–85)
    (pp. 241-254)

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average began one of its longest rises in history from late in 1983 until it dropped like a rock in October 1987. In those four years people who had doubted that the economy of the United States could ever be free of stagflation began to recover their confidence. And the boom meant more money to rebuild and to alleviate distress, with lots of loose change left over for the campaigns of politicians like Ed Koch. Koch rode the wave of jubilation brilliantly, emerging as a household name. He became America’s Mayor long before the 9/11 attacks...

  20. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  21. 17 A NEW SPATIAL ORDER Gentrification, the Parks, Times Square
    (pp. 255-275)

    The Koch administration created a new spatial order for New York City in the 1980s by promoting gentrification and privatizing public space, the latter accomplished through the creation of private groups that raised money and ultimately took over management of significant parts of the park system. A controversial system of tax incentives encouraged office building construction and subsidized big companies to keep their headquarters in Manhattan. City hall also carried out redevelopment of seamy areas of the city, notably Times Square, in an effort to attract tourists and improve those spaces for residents. While each of these initiatives had drawbacks,...

    (pp. 276-289)

    Ed Koch always tried to exceed Fiorello La Guardia, but in the case of homelessness, the comparison is sad. Koch, though he surely tried as hard, had less success in reducing homelessness than his predecessor did in the depths of the Depression. Of course, La Guardia had Franklin Roosevelt to work with—a president committed to freedom from fear and freedom from want throughout the world. New York’s homeless got little comfort from Ronald Reagan, who claimed that “one problem that we’ve had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates,...

  23. 19 THE KOCH HOUSING PLAN (1986–89)
    (pp. 290-304)

    In his 1985 “State of the City” message, Mayor Koch announced the most ambitious plan of his political career: a five-year $4.4 billion city-financed program to build or rehabilitate 100,000 low- and moderate-income housing units. The idea took off, and several weeks later he more than doubled that goal, expanding it to 252,000 units, with a revamped ten-year plan, revised once again in 1989, that committed $5.1 billion to finish building the 252,000 units by 1996.1 It was an extremely risky move. Some experts said at first that Koch’s goal was “inspirational rather than realistic.” At first, no one in...

  24. 20 AIDS
    (pp. 305-316)

    Before the Center for Disease Control identified Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and gave AIDS its name in 1982, the illness was so little understood that it some called it “gay pneumonia.” One year earlier, in July 1981, the New York Native, a leading gay newspaper, had published the first credible report linking the disease to sex. Dr. Lawrence Mass warned gay men that frequent sex with many partners placed them at risk for a mysterious set of diseases, including Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), a cancerous skin lesion. “Many feel that sexual frequency with a multiplicity of partners—what some would call...

  25. 21 CRIME AND POLICE ISSUES (1978–84)
    (pp. 317-333)

    When Ed Koch ran for mayor in 1977, he did so as a law-and-order candidate, calling for reinstatement of the death penalty and harsh action against looters during the blackout. But he really did not know much about crime or criminal justice issues at the time. In his campaign he offered little besides a promise of toughness and a vague plan to put more officers on the street by hiring civilians to do department paperwork.

    Fiscal constraints determined all policy in Koch’s first term, limiting his ability to reform the police and the criminal justice system. Despite his law-and-order rhetoric,...

  26. 22 THE WARD YEARS Police, Crime, and Police Crimes (1984–89)
    (pp. 334-353)

    After weeks of bad publicity from the Conyers hearings about racism on New York’s police force, Koch made city corrections commissioner Benjamin Ward New York’s first black police commissioner. The appointment raised hopes that Koch would change the department’s culture, reduce brutality and discourtesy, and increase the trust of African Americans in the NYPD. Despite his repeated denunciation of race-based quotas, Koch made no bones about the political benefits of his new appointee’s skin color. Patting Ward on the shoulder, he told the press: “He’s black. There is no question about that. If that is helpful, isn’t that nice?” He...

    (pp. 354-373)

    On the night of January 11, 1986, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern shut off the lights in city parks so New Yorkers could more easily see Halley’s comet. Koch, fashionably turned out in an aviator jacket, joked that since he’d still be mayor on the comet’s next pass in 2061, “I could possibly see it again.” Koch discounted the comet’s reputation as a harbinger of disaster, although it had served as an augury of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.¹

    No one had any reason to connect Halley’s comet with the...

  28. 24 KOCH’S ENDGAME (1988–89)
    (pp. 374-387)

    Vigilante violence erupted in some white neighborhoods even as the crack epidemic ravaged some black neighborhoods from the mid-1980s. Mayor Koch described the beating of two black men in Howard Beach, Queens, on December 1986, as “the most horrendous” display of racism since he had become mayor. The naked brutality of the Howard Beach gang highlighted New York’s continuing racial divisions, despite perceived progress in education and employment. “As a black, you can have a summer house in Sag Harbor, you can have an I.R.A., you can have all the material things. But you still can’t walk through Howard Beach....

  29. 25 EPILOGUE
    (pp. 388-396)

    On the evening of December 9, 2004, a glamorous party was in full swing in the Blue Room of Gracie Mansion. Glasses started clinking loudly, signaling the main event. All eyes turned to the rostrum. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was flanked by New York’s two senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the evening’s honoree, Edward Irving Koch, whose eightieth birthday had prompted this display of power and pomp. Bloomberg craned his neck to gaze up at Koch, whose height allows him to dominate even a star-studded scene. “When I was just a lowly millionaire in the 1970s, I wanted...

    (pp. 397-404)

    “Koch? I hope you get him!” declared a colleague at the American Historical Association convention several years ago when he learned I was writing this book. Harsh criticism of Koch among academics is not limited to comments in the hallway. In a 1999 survey of urban scholars asking them to judge mayors, La Guardia won by a landslide, with 61 of 69 naming him as the best big-city mayor in American history. The one mayor no one could agree on was Koch: he drew 14 negative votes and 8 positive ones, ranking as the fifteenth-worst American mayor of all time....

  31. NOTES
    (pp. 405-476)
  32. INDEX
    (pp. 477-494)