Onetime New York City mayor Ed Koch, who ran the city when it was first hit with the AIDS epidemic, had died of congestive heart failure. He was 88.
“In elected office and as a private citizen, he was our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “We will miss him dearly, but his good works—and his wit and wisdom—will forever be a part of the city he loved so much.”
The three-term mayor, who served from 1978-1989, leaves behind a complicated legacy: While his unbridled enthusiasm helped New Yorkers during some of the city’s darkest days, his inaction in the face of the dawning AIDS epidemic earned him the enmity of many in the gay community.
A WWII veteran, Koch never married and frequently dodged rumors about being gay. Larry Kramer, a particularly canny foe, excoriated Koch and his inaction on AIDS in the award-winning The Normal Heart. “He was a closeted gay man, and he did not want in any way to be associated with this,” Kramer told New York magazine.
Koch always dismissed the rumors without answering them:”There’s no question that some New Yorkers think I’m gay, and voted for me nevertheless,” Koch told the magazine. “The vast majority don’t care, and others don’t think I am. And I don’t give a [expletive] either way!”
Perhaps serendipitously, Koch, a new documentary about the former politician, debuts today.