Originally published 02/06/2013
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”Was Ed Koch gay? I don’t know, and I don’t care. And neither should you.When the former New York mayor died last week, we heard all the old cliches about why he should have come out of the closet-or why it was necessary to “out” him. If he were openly gay, the story goes, he would have done more to fight AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. And he would have made it easier for other people to come out, too.But as Koch correctly insisted, his sexual orientation was nobody’s business but his own. And to see why, let’s imagine that Koch wasn't male and gay, but female and straight.Then let’s suppose that Ms. Koch — like 40% of American women — had undergone an abortion. Would it be OK to “out” her for that, too?...
Originally published 02/05/2013
Ed Koch as mayor. Credit: Flickr/LCB Ed Koch was laid to rest with applause for leading his city out of the despair of the 1970s with bluff, bluster and chutzpah. Yet the Koch mayoralty, for all its theater, was also a turning point. In complex and contradictory ways, Koch hastened the shift from a liberal New York that dates to the 1930s to the more conservative city of today. His record bears marks of both.When I interviewed Koch in 2010 for a book about New York City from LaGuardia to Bloomberg, he said he wanted to be remembered as the mayor who restored the city’s confidence after the fiscal crisis; balanced the city’s budget; built affordable housing on a massive scale; and reformed the process of selecting judges to take the politics out. All three were measures (excepting perhaps the pride in budget balancing) that any liberal Democrat could endorse. Yet his style and policies gave him a reputation as a conservative.
Originally published 02/03/2013
Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in political science at Yale and author of “The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York,” is a former columnist for The Daily News.I WAS almost scripted to hate Ed Koch from the moment in September 1977 when I moved, with a new Harvard doctorate, to Brooklyn, on what would become a long activist-writer’s foray into the city’s fiscal crisis and the effects of that summer’s power blackout and looting.Mr. Koch was winning the Democratic mayoral primary, and my cousin James Wechsler, who’d been the editor of The New York Post in its liberal glory days but was then in charge of just the editorial page, was shaking his head in a lonely corner office on South Street as The Post’s new proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, turned it into a virtual press office for the Koch campaign.Throughout his 12 years as mayor I assailed Mr. Koch — in a Brooklyn newspaper that I edited, in Dissent, in The Village Voice and even while working across the hall from him as a speechwriter for the City Council president, Carol Bellamy, whom the mayor at one point denominated, with his customary grace, “a horror show.”...
Originally published 01/22/2013
There’s a moment toward the end of “Koch,” a soon-to-be released documentary by Neil Barsky on the extended political career of the city’s 105th mayor, in which Edward I. Koch, eternally single, is asked to address questions surrounding the longstanding interest in his sexuality. He responds as he has done for a long time now, declaring that it is no one’s business. He argues that his engagement with the issue would set a precedent for gross intrusions into the personal lives of political candidates, a bit of narcissistic posturing that seems to ignore the extent to which that field has already been trampled by mad dogs and wild horses.In the past, Mr. Koch, who is 88, handled the question by joking at the absurdity of any fascination with the sex life of an old man — presumably he has not kept up with the boundless tabloid interest in Hugh Hefner’s late-life erotic shenanigans or with Cialis ads. Certainly Mr. Koch has maintained a more vigilant security apparatus around his intimate life than most contemporary public figures one can think of.
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