Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch Dead At 88

ed kochOnetime 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.


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  • MartinNYID

    ” who ran the city when it was first hit with the AIDS epidemic” and completely ignored it.

  • Scott Rose

    In 2004, Koch endorsed Bush, during a time when Bush was doing a lot of political gay bashing, that included campaigning for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage throughout the country. In the special election to replace Congressman Anthony Wiener, Koch endorsed a maliciously anti-gay Tea Party candidate, rather than a Democrat (an Orthodox Jew, as happened, who had voted for marriage equality in the NY State Assembly.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    I am no fan of Ed Koch — his antics, See #2 for recent crap, tops a very large pile of political shit.

    Nonetheless, some perspective is in order: while Koch was mayor of NYC, Dianne Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco following the assassination of Mayor Moscone (and Harvey Milk). As the AIDS epidemic hit New York and San Francisco particularly hard, there was no special attention that Feinstein led in SF. Indeed, much of the gay community, including myself, opposed Feinstein’s orders (later adopted into local health laws) to close all the bath houses.

    Though the SF Health Dept. did initiate its own prevention campaigns, promoting safe sex education programs, distributing condoms throughout the gay community, it was not the city that came to the assistance of AIDS patients, for direct care, legal aid (so many patients were illegally evicted from their homes), and financial support (alas, so many were fired from their jobs — including those working for gay owned businesses), etc.

    In both San Francisco and New York, it was the general community who rallied together to feed, house, and support the patients — from Project Open Hand to the legal aid programs — VOLUNTEERS and ADVOCATES — they are the heroes who came to the aid of their fellow citizens.


    While mayors of even the largest and important cities are mostly powerless to move federal policies, particularly back in the 70s/80s involving the gay community, neither Koch nor Feinstein led any type of moral crusade to come to the aid of those so horribly affected by HIV/AIDS. When it was apparently clear that the federal response — which SHOULD have led the nation — was no where to be seen, it was ActUP and AMFAR and the many other activists who shook everything up. How much more so woud the federal response been sped up, how much more quickly would research gain results, how much pain could have been relieved, had Koch or Feinstein actually led the voice to make change happen.

  • hyhybt

    I liked him on “The People’s Court.”

  • Kieran

    Ed Koch was born in 1925 and grew up in a world where being a homosexual was seen as some degenerate perversion and/or mental disorder. If Ed Koch had been an openly gay man in the 1960s, 70s and even 80s if can reasonably be asked: would he even have been nominated, much less elected to Congress and later NYC Mayor? Sadly, the answer is probably no, and Ed Koch knew it. Too many Archie Bunker types of both the Christian AND Jewish variety in NYC back then. Thankfully, things have changed in our own time as City Council President (and maybe Mayor) Christine Quinn can attest.

  • buddy199


    Koch shut down the bath houses, ground zero for the epidemic.

  • buddy199

    @The Real Mike in Asheville:

    Blame Koch and Feinstein for the AIDS epidemic. Of course, the gay community had no responsibility for how that disease expolded.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    buddy 199,
    I was a new nurse working on the newly formed AIDS unit in New York. We didn’t have much help from Fed or State. We were in crisis mode. Gay mens Health Crisis, ACT UP, and family and friends assisted us more than any governmental agency. Friends would come in and help bathe and feed our patients, many of whom were dropped by their families. The staff was inundated. Seizures were commonplace. KS was rampant. Fear was palpable. Authorities would come in and speak to the staff about how the virus was able to survive on counters for up to two weeks. We weren’t sure if this virus would mutate, becoming airborne. Many of the older nurses, brave enough to stay on and not abandon the situation would go to the Church down the block at their lunch hour and pray. They were scared. Our air conditioner never worked during the summer. It occurred to me years later that perhaps they just said that so that the air would not circulate throughout the whole hospital. The sweat, fevers, diarrhea, and skin afflictions brewed into an environ that could be cut with a knife. We had very little help at the beginning. The old ladies pushing the toiletries cart sold Brute deodorant, Brute cologne, Brute, Brute, Brute so much so that, should I be unfortunate enough to come across that scent in an elevator, it brings me right back to that time. We were in trouble and Reagan wasn’t acknowledging it. Koch was as useless as tits on a bore pig. Surgeons, doctors, nurses were exposed to the virus by way of sharps. Safety techniques had yet to be devised. It felt as though we were in it alone. Vital information about safe sex was slow in emerging. Many lives could have been saved, but tourism took precedence over safety. It was overwhelming. More could have been done. When heterosexuals were becoming infected, when blood supplies were tainted, we started getting some much needed attention. Shame gave way to political activism. Coming out of the closet became a communal act, rather than personal. Artists, poets, writers wrapped their minds around AIDS and made it translate in a language that the unaffected could hear. Death changes a young person’s perspective for life and the fruit of this perspective gave our community a voice seldom heard. Wiser, wary, and worn.

  • MartinNYID

    @buddy199: no one knew what they were dealing with moron. That’s the point. The jerk wouldn;t even acknowledge it, so they could even study it.No one knew if it was transmissable by touch, air, sex – anything. WHen you have a a health crisis, you act. Koch and Feinstein froze under the watchful gaze of King Bush I, and legacy of Herr Reagan.

    That, and he destabilized the entire city, and set the stage for gentrification, Giuliani, and the horrendous hipster/yuppie parade currently occupying the place.


    @1EqualityUSA: That was magnificent. Thank you.

  • hephaestion

    Thank you, 1EqualityUSA.

  • mz.sam

    Public Access broadcast Gay USA have mentioned repeatedly that not only Ed Koch was a rampant homophobe but seriously closeted. True or not, good riddance and may his soul lie in dog shit!

  • LadyL

    @1EqualityUSA: I second Prince’s accolade. Thank you.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    No problem, Queertiers. Had I written more slowly, I may have caught the comma errors and a misspelled word. oh, well. “Boar pig.” It gives me a chance to reference Koch again.

  • Charli Girl

    Wow! I remember being paranoid in the 80’s but geez sounds, like you were on the from lines!

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Charlie Girl,
    I wasn’t alone and my time was split between working there and art school so, yes, I was on the front lines, but part time during the year, full time during the summer. I learned to drink my coffee cold during this period in my life, as sheer exhaustion would inevitably have hot coffee rolling across my sternum. Nodding off in the morning had consequences. To this day, I drink my coffee room temp, cabernet-like.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @buddy199: FU, A-hole! Lets see, oh yeah, somehow we were to know that a virus, invisible to the eye and unknown to ANY community? You’re no Buddy here, just another trolling asshole.

  • MartinNYID

    @buddy199: no fan of bathouses, but, they were not ground zero – the government vaccinations targeted at homo men about 5 years earlier were. (OOOPS! Did I break the silence on it all??)

  • Tackle

    @1EqualityUSA: Don’t worry about the comma errors and misspelled word. Your post is so compelling, that most won’t even notice. You got your point across loud and clear. A sad tragic yet BEAUTIFUL history lession…

  • ted72

    @1EqualityUSA: @1EqualityUSA,
    Very well said and thank you very much for your wisdom. Koch was no hero to NY’ers. I’m a native New Yorker, but I was just a tiny peapod back then.

  • SkeeterVT

    AIDS wasn’t the only major stain on Ed Koch’s record as mayor of New York. As a native of the “Big Apple,” I can testify that Koch’s other major stain was his polarization of the city along racial lines — especially during his third term.

    He deeply alienated the city’s African-American community with a caustic comment that “Jews would be crazy” to vote for Jesse Jackson — whom Koch accused of anti-Semitism — when Jackson sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988. He earned the emnity of the mostly black Harlem community when he shut down the city-owned Sydenham Hospital in 1985. And just as the Koch administration was beginning to make headway in reducing violent crime in the city, the crack cocaine wars exploded, turning the city’s black neighborhoods into deadly battlegrounds.

    Also during Koch’s watch, New York’s LGBT community became as deeply polarized along racial lines as the rest of the city — a polarization that reached a boiling point in 1981 when a black church pastor, whose son came out to him as gay, went on a shooting rampage in the city’s mostly gay West Village, killing six people, all of them white gay men.

    By the fall of 1981, I couldn’t take it anymore and left New York for good.

    I don’t give a damn whether Koch was gay, straight or bi. You can call him a “closet case” if you want, but there’s no way anybody will be able to prove it either way, for Koch was never romantically involved with anyone, male or female, at any time in his life. Frankly, he was simply too brash for anyone to put up with him.

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