In 1978, New York City was crumbling and the leading indicator of America’s seemingly irreversible decline. The South Bronx, once a thriving middle-class neighborhood, had became a national symbol of urban horror. From 1960 to 1980, New York’s murder rate tripled. Out-of-control spending had brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy, leading to a state takeover of its finances. The city’s subway was plauged by crime, graffiti, and equipment breakdowns.
On July 13th, 1977, the city reached its nadir when a 24-hour blackout gave way to mass looting. Bushwick, a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, was practically burned to the ground.
Then in 1978, Edward Irving Koch became New York’s 105th Mayor.
A veteran congressman from Manhattan, Koch’s chutzpah was exactly what the city needed. A self-proclaimed “liberal with sanity,” Koch took on special interests, he put the city’s finances back in order, and showed that it was not only possible to govern but to have fun doing it.
Koch gained a national reputation by being the quintessential New Yorker: A Bronx-born ethnic whose disparaging remarks about life outside the city may well have sunk his 1981 bid for the governor’s mansion in Albany. Long presumed to be gay, Koch kept mum about his personal life while pushing for social tolerance. His symbolic and practical role in the Big Apple’s multi-decade renaissance is as huge as his appetite for publicity.
Since losing his bid for a fourth term in 1989, Koch has been a tireless dilettante. He’s written books and hosted his own radio show. He was Judge Wappner’s first replacement on the People’s Court. He started a nonprofit to clean up corruption in the state capital. He turned his passion for film into an avocation as a movie reviewer, first for a community paper called the West Side Spirit, and now on the YouTube Channel, The Mayor at the Movies.
Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie sat down with Mayor Koch at his office in Midtown in April 2011 for a wide ranging discussion about rent control, the Tea Party, Donald Trump, his sexuality, whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo coined the phrase “Vote for Cuomo not the Homo,” his memories of World War II, and how he “gave New York City back its morale” (as the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan put it).
Approximately 18 minutes.
Produced, shot, and edited by Jim Epstein, with help from Lucas Newman. Additional camera by Anthony Fisher.