Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Ed Koch Show

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Ed Koch Show

Article excerpt

A new documentary about Hizzoner says a lot about what makes a great mayor.

"I never doubted that I would be a good mayor," said Ed Koch, with a self-satisfied smile. "I never did."

It was Tuesday night, and the documentary "Koch," written and directed by my old friend Neil Barsky, was having its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. In his late 80s, the former New York mayor looked his age in the film, but he was still very sharp and quite funny -- and as needy as he'd always been for public attention and approval.

As Ed Koch matter-of-factly uttered those words, early in the movie, the audience, full of former staff aides, political loyalists and New York movers-and-shakers, chuckled knowingly. Throughout his political life, Koch's ego had never been far from the surface. It says here that his egotism is part of what made him a great mayor.

Koch had planned to be in the audience Tuesday night. He had cooperated fully with Barsky and had given a few interviews in the run-up to the premiere. He was clearly looking forward to basking in the spotlight again.

But earlier that day he had been admitted to the hospital. By Friday, he was dead. Is it tasteless to say he couldn't have planned a better promotional campaign? Probably. But Koch himself would have laughed at the joke. Which was another thing about him: He was probably the last mayor of New York to have a sense of humor.

Like Koch, Barsky was born in the Bronx. A former Wall Street Journal reporter and hedge fund manager, he was in college when Koch was first elected mayor. About 10 years ago, he told me, he had driven around the South Bronx, an area he hadn't ventured into in decades. He was stunned to see, as he put it, that "I couldn't find any of the old burned-out buildings" that he recalled from the 1970s. "They had all been replaced with real housing."

Affordable housing was a big part of Koch's legacy, Barsky realized; indeed, under Koch, the city spent $5 billion on housing, more than the next 50 American cities combined. The memory of that tour of the South Bronx stuck with him. When Barsky closed his hedge fund to become a filmmaker, Koch was an obvious subject.

Which is not to say the film is a big wet kiss. Yes, it gives plenty of credit where it is due: Koch's sound financial management brought the city back from the brink of bankruptcy. …

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