Ed Koch, the beloved but polarizing former New York City mayor, is the subject of a new documentary that premiered in the Big Apple on the same day he died at age 88 of congestive heart failure.
Koch presided as mayor from 1978 to 1989, a scary time for the city because of the crack epidemic and uncertainty around the housing predicament. He was an outspoken, charismatic leader who – for better or worse – has been called the personification of the city he represents, in part because of his trademark phrase, “How’m I Doing?”
But there was also a dark side. Koch was long questioned about his sexuality and while he often refused to comment on the subject, the gay community perceived him as a turning a blind eye at the height of the AIDS crisis. His time in office was also marked by racial tensions, homelessness and a high crime rate, which soon turned into a corruption scandal that cost him the office.
"People became tired of Koch's personality," Mitchell Moss, the director of the Urban Research Center at New York University, told Reuters. "He was a remarkable mayor but one with a big mouth. After 12 years you have to change the lyrics."
Director Neil Barsky’s documentary, titled simply “Koch,” is an attempt to chronicle the mayor’s three terms in office. It opened in theaters on Feb. 1 but premiered on the Tuesday before at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan.
“I cannot think of a New Yorker as popular or as polarizing. … Koch proved a perfectly complex character,” Barsky said in a statement prior to the former mayor’s death. “He is funny and he can be a bully. He is charming and also narcissistic. He has a much-speculated-about private life, which he doesn’t mind being asked about, so long as you don’t mind being told to mind your own business.”
Koch was hospitalized and unable to attend the documentary’s premiere. He was having trouble breathing and was unable to speak, but many of the invited guests told the New York Daily News how they wished he’d been present.
“It’s very sad to be watching this vibrant history, this amazing history, of this guy who has had so much life and made so much impact on us, and know he can’t be there,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
Koch didn’t have any control over the final film but did say he saw it twice before his death.
“He showed me the film before he made it public,” Koch said. “There were things in it I didn’t like, and there were things I thought were very good. I didn’t ask them to change anything. … What is very nice is that people who were like 2 years old when I left office still know me. I’m still relevant. That to me is very important.”