Spokesman says Ed Koch, outspoken 3-term mayor who became brash symbol of NYC, dies at age 88.
The 88-year-old Ed Koch made it to a Lincoln Center screening of “Koch” in mid-January, but on Thursday he was moved to intensive care in the latest in a series of health setbacks.
Pugnacious, outspoken, insightful and outrageous — everyone has an impression of what former New York Mayor Ed Koch is like, based on a persona that has kept him in the spotlight for a half century and glared most brightly during his three terms (1978-1989) leading the city.
But what is the real Ed Koch like?
Ed Koch is photographed on a New Jersey farm in 1982.
“In many ways, he’s very similar to the way he is in public,” says Neil Barsky, a former Daily News and Wall Street Journal reporter whose first film, the documentary “Koch,” opens Friday. “The person you see on TV and in the street really is the person he is in private.”
The 88-year-old former mayor and gadfly-about-town made it to a Lincoln Center screening of “Koch” in mid-January, but on Thursday he was moved to intensive care in the latest in a series of health setbacks. A survivor of a stroke, a heart attack and a quadruple bypass (as he details in the film), the aging politico has been in and out of hospitals four times in recent months.
Filmmaker Neil Barsky’s documentary “Koch” opens on Friday.
Barsky believes Koch doesn’t get enough credit for the turnaround New York underwent during the late 1980s and 1990s.
“I believe that the New York of today — and the recovery of New York from the 1970s — really began under Mayor Koch,” says Barsky.
Ed Koch, a political heavyweight in NYC, puts his fighting spirit to use at Golden Gloves event with famed champ Joe Louis.
“Through him, I felt I could tell the story of contemporary New York. You look at the scenes of the South Bronx from the 1970s. It was total devastation. But you go to the South Bronx today and it’s been totally rebuilt. The same with Times Square. We take it for granted that it’s this Disneyfied place. But it was the most dangerous place in the city back then,” the director says of Koch.
“He balanced the city’s finances and restored morale.”
Neil Barsky (r.), the director of the new movie about the former mayor, says the real Ed Koch (l.) is “very similar to the way he is in public.”
If Koch still gets a bad rap about anything, Barsky says, it’s for the city’s initially slow reaction to the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. But Barsky believes that while Koch initially fumbled the city’s response to the health crisis, he ultimately stepped up, both about AIDS and about gay rights. Koch did this despite continued rumors about his sexuality — something Koch still refuses to comment on.
“The animosity on the part of AIDS activists — some of it is well-placed, because the city was slow to respond. But it caught up quickly,” Barsky says. “Early on, he was a fierce advocate for gay rights. People forget that he passed two gay civil-rights bills in the City Council, which was not easy to do politically.”
Koch stumping for Michael Bloomberg.
When he looked at archival footage of Koch in his early campaigns for Congress and his ’77 mayoral run, Barsky was struck by how true Koch has remained to his essential nature.
“In the ’70s, he had this great campaign style in the streets. And when we were shooting in 2010, he was still the same guy — thick-skinned, funny — everything just rolls off him.
“In the film, Koch comments that to get people to follow you, you’ve got to be larger than life. And he is.”