New York Mayor Ed Koch on rent control, his sexuality, Andrew Cuomo, and how he helped save New York


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 Wapner'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.'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.

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  1. “A Bronx-born ethnic”

    I am not even sure what an “ethnic” [when used as a noun and with no other descriptor] is. Isn’t everybody ethnic somethingorother? Isn’t this like saying he is a phone without specifying the language he speaks?

    1. I think it means, “I am a good white boy, not an evil WASP”

  2. Does anyone else not care about Koch’s sexuality?

    1. I’d be much more comfortable had the thought of the little wizened homonculus having sex never entered my consciousness.

      1. I never understood why people were obsessed with the issue. I don’t even want to try to think about him doing any such thing with anyone, male or female.

    2. I was going to ask the same question. Now I know that I am not alone.

      I am Jack’s complete and utter disinterest in other people’s sexual orientation.

    3. Ewwwww.

    4. Are you suggesting that The Jacket was trying to out Koch for ratings?

  3. All I remember about Koch in the 80s were the suspenders and his sort of humorously-patronizing attitude about everything.

    Which I guess is a dead giveaway of teh gay. But I concur with dude above: please, dear god, don’t even mention this. Why it should be of interest is outside the bounds of reason…. yes, Drink now.

  4. Was Jim Epstein arrested during the filming?

  5. Koch is gay? People generally suspected him of being gay? How did I miss this? Did he catch the gay from Sulu?

  6. Ed is a liberal from an age where liberals were not insane. In a sane world Ed Koch would be the dean of the Democratic Party.

  7. How fitting. The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

    Koch is a moron about rent control. Koch doesn’t get economics.

    And Koch is a moron about food.

    Yet, he is right about Governor Christie and the wicked unionized public educators.

    What a nudge Ed Koch is.

  8. I never heard of any Gay rumours until now.
    I do live far from New York, though.

  9. As a New Yorker born and raised during the Koch era, my feelings about him have kind of evolved over the years. He was not a terrible mayor, let’s get that straight. But he wasn’t a particularly great one either. He might have cleaned up the city’s finances a bit, but the city overall remained a crime-ridden mess, nor was he exactly libertarian on a lot of issues. Mostly he seemed to get by on being really genial.

    ProLib – one of the things was that he wasn’t just “not married”, but no one could recall him having a relationship with a woman, ever. And he was fairly pro-gay back when that was less popular than it is now.

    1. He is a liberal. And liberals believed some pretty stupid things about crime and criminals back then. But I woudl still take Koch over about any Democrat in office today. Wouldn’t you?


  11. I never understood why people were obsessed with the issue.

    “I think Ed Koch is the person most responsible for allowing AIDS to get out of control. It happened here first, on his watch. If he had done what any moral human being should have done in the beginning, and put out alarms, then a lot fewer people would have gotten sick. I was introduced to Koch at a party in 1982, specifically to talk about what was happening. And the minute he knew what I wanted to talk about, I was pulled away by police. He was a closeted gay man, and he did not want in any way to be associated with this.”
    Larry Kramer

    1. If he had “gotten the alarm out” and done things like shut down the bath houses like they tried to do in San Fransisco, the gay community would have gone bizerk. Gays denied that AIDS was a problem or that it was sexually transmitted long after it was decimating their community. They ought to look in the mirror rather than blaming everyone else.

      1. If he had “gotten the alarm out” and done things like shut down the bath houses like they tried to do in San Fransisco, the gay community would have gone bizerk.

        Your fear-mongering aside, Koch did shut down the gay bathhouses. However, closing just the gay bathhouses would have violated anti-discrimination laws…so the city did its usual Solomonic thing and just closed all of them.

  12. Interesting interview. Sad to see him throw in with the kind of nannyism that Bloomberg is forcing NYers into, and his argument for rent control also rings a little hollow.
    Fiscally and personality-wise though, he’s a breath of fresh air compared to all the tired soundbites or milquetoast idiots we have today.

    The sexuality angle is interesting – because he’s to be admired for accomplishing all he has (serving in the army, holding a very public office), and for refusing to let it be a focus of his persona. However, it’s sad to think that he wouldn’t use that *possible* personal facet to promote a more liberal, tolerant embrace from a governmental level. He could probably do a lot to dispel some stupid prejudices by reiterating the fact that he fought in WWII, ran the biggest city in the world and yet he still cant legally claim the same rights and benefits that hetero couples do in the USA.

  13. I can’t believe that the possibility of Koch being “gay” could even be an issue and even be worthy of discussion. What the hell? He was a mayor of New York, for some a good one, for some not so good – agree to disagree, but get off the “gay” thing – who cares!!!!

  14. I can’t believe that the possibility of Koch being “gay” could even be an issue and even be worthy of discussion. What the hell? He was a mayor of New York, for some a good one, for some not so good – agree to disagree, but get off the “gay” thing – who cares!!!!


  15. Don’t have much of an opinion on Koch but he was behind me at the opening of Requiem for a Dream with I assume his wife. Great movie, I always wondered what he thought of it…

  16. It could be interesting to wonder what if Detroit got Ed Koch instead of Coleman A. Young as mayor of MotorCity?

  17. Best part of the interview is Nick’s facial expression when Koch refers to the Sierra club as a good government organization (around the 12:30 mark).

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  19. Koch was amusing as Mayor, but lets not lose sight of the Donald Manes machine and the overall fear that the subways had back then.
    Rent control is a disaster, nanny state ruining fabric of NYC.
    End of the day, Koch tells you what he thinks and agree or not, at least he does not sugar coat everything.

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