Former NYC mayor Ed Koch’s tenure brought to light by documentary and panel

Mayor Ed Koch had documentary based on his tenure play on Oct. 15.

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Mayor Ed Koch had documentary based on his tenure play on Oct. 15.

With the term of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg winding down, the era of the City’s last three-term mayor, Ed Koch was recalled in the Little Theater on Oct. 15.

Following a screening of the documentary Koch, a panel discussion was held about the life and times of the sometimes beloved, sometimes beleaguered Ed Koch.

The panel included Martha K. Hirst, the University’s executive vice president, chief operating officer and treasurer who worked for Koch; Robert J. McGuire, Esq., who served as police commissioner under Koch from 1978-1983; New York Times journalist Sam Roberts; and Jonathan Soffer, Ph. D who wrote “Ed Koch And The Rebuilding of New York City.”

Koch inherited at its nadir in the late 1970s.

“When I was police commissioner, when Ed Koch was the mayor it was the Wild West,” McGuire said.  “It was a lawless city.” 

The city also had few resources to make an impact on rising crime rates. 

“There was a feeling that cities were gone, that societies had lost the battle,” he said. 



When memories of an anti-nuclear movement were recalled, McGuire cracked “that’s why I have no hair.”

Roberts painted a city that was “a very, very dangerous place.  People were afraid to leave their houses.” 

Echoing that sentiment was Hirst, who felt that Koch’s housing projects were “to bring back a sense of the city being liveable.”The documentary and panel did not sugarcoat some shortcomings during his term.  Prominently mentioned was the closing of Sydenham Hospital in Harlem.  The closing in 1980 cost Koch a lot of support in the black community that he would never gain back. 

“At the time he didn’t care about the political fallout,” said Soffer.

Roberts remarked that, “at the time it was a flashpoint for race relations in New York.”

McGuire felt that the mayor “was a very complicated guy.” 


The former commissioner said that, “Ed could cry at a black police officer’s funeral who died in the line of fire,” but also described him as having “engaged in a lot of self-inflicted wounds.”

Both Soffer and Roberts put Koch, who served from 1978-1989, towards the top of their lists of New York City mayors. 

McGuire said that “I found him to be a good manager and an excellent leader.  He was also a cheerleader for the city.  You can’t really underestimate that.”

“He was the last mayor with a sense of humor,” Roberts said, “and that’s something the people of this city deserve.”