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Koch cover photo

Koch 2012


Distributed by Zeitgeist Media, 301 Potter Lane, Rockville, MD 20850; 240-505-8696
Produced by Neil Barsky
Directed by Neil Barsky
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Government, Politics, Urban Areas

Date Entered: 01/10/2014

Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY

Koch is a fine documentary about a significant political figure in New York City politics ca. 1965-2010. The film is structured to narrate the rise and fall of the bigger than life politician. The director juxtaposes Ed Koch in 2010 with footage of Koch’s political career and reminiscences by friends and foes. The film shows how Koch’s 1977 mayoral victory began with his quick condemnation of the looting that struck New York City during the summer blackout. Koch moved further to the right on crime than any of his Democratic rivals and began to earn the respect of would be voters in the New York primary. Koch won support from African American voters by promising to save Sydenham Hospital in Harlem. Koch won over powerful political boss, Meade Esposito, and defeated his rivals in Democratic primary. To win the general election Koch squashed rumors about his sexual orientation by appearing in public with former Miss America Bess Myerson.

Once in office, Koch faced the greatest budget crisis the city had ever had. To balance the budget and gain financial support to restructure New York City’s outstanding debt, Koch slashed budgets and raised revenue but lost the support of the public unions. Koch turned a deaf ear to the concerns of the African American community by closing Sydenham Hospital. His ties with Meade Esposito eventually brought scandal to his administration in his third and final term in office. Koch left office under a hint of scandal but his legacy remained. He restored New York City’s economic vitality and launched a plan to turn Times Square from the center of the New York sex industry into the thriving theatre district it is today.

Koch left a mixed legacy which will lead to fruitful debates about the man and the times he lived. The film raises questions about Koch’s motivations. Was he an opportunist? Was he a racist? Was he simply an egomaniac? The film allows the viewer to draw their own conclusion but demonstrates that Koch paid a high price for his political success. The final installment of the film looks at Koch in 2010. On the campaign trail for the New York State Assembly Koch is ignored by people passing by on the streets of New York. Debates erupted in the New York City Council over whether the Queensboro bridge should be renamed in honor of Koch. On election night 2010 Koch was at the victory party for newly elected Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Governor Andrew Cuomo. After moving about the party making comments about people and political history the former mayor left the party alone to return to his apartment, empty except for memories of his glory days in office.

The video is of high quality and is beautifully filmed. The strength and weakness of the film is the subject: Ed Koch. At 95 minutes, the viewer is exposed to the often abrasive Koch for an overlong period. Careful editing could have pared the film down and alleviated this problem. In many college and high school classrooms, the film will either have to be shown with selective cuts or in two or more class periods. Perhaps Zeitgeist might release a trimmed down version of 60 minutes or less which would diminish the overexposure to Koch and make it more classroom friendly.