The mayor, the city, the tensions - New York News

Ed Koch, 1924-2013

The mayor, the city, the tensions

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

To understand the impact Ed Koch had on New York City, one has to understand the time period during which he was mayor: 12 years when the city was not the safest big city in America but had the perception, some of it true, as one of the most dangerous, dysfunctional big cities in the world.

In the summer of 1977 a blackout and resulting looting was the low point for the city. That same year a Manhattan congressman was elected mayor.

When Koch became mayor in 1978, New York City was broke. The state government had taken over its finances. It had a high murder and crime rate, graffiti scarred subways and abandoned neighborhoods.

New York City was portrayed in the news media and movies as one step away from anarchy.

Then Koch, with a larger-than-life persona, started a turnaround. He began by cutting spending.

While controlling the fiscal crisis Koch also courted the news media and created a perception that New York was getting better.

Political science Professor Tom Halper said that Koch's optimism was contagious. Perceptions changed -- and perception can be more important than reality. Halper said that in 1982 Koch and New York got a big break: the national economy got better.

Koch also appointed new young judges and in the late 1980s built housing for the poor. 

But his critics say that Koch's relations with the minority communities of New York, especially African Americans, grew worse each year. Though Koch had been a civil rights supporter, many of the programs he cut were in minority communities.

The Rev. Al Sharpton remembers how Koch had him arrested at City Hall for refusing to leave his office.

The reverend said Koch did not do enough to mend race relations during the tense aftermath following the deaths of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach in 1986 and the Yusef Hawskins in Bensonhurst in 1989. Sharpton said that Koch had a blind side when it came to racism.

In 1988 Koch said Jews would have to be "crazy" to vote for Jesse Jackson for president. That remark is said to have cost him the Democratic primary that year when he tried to run for a fourth term as mayor.

But Shaprton did note Koch was a straight shooter who meant what he said. He and Koch in later years became friendly and agreed to disagree on civil rights.

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