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Mayor Ed Koch Led New York City Through Challenges of ’70s, ’80s

Ed Koch
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City from 1978-1989, passed away Friday morning from congestive heart failure at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital. He was 88 years old.

Koch presided over a tumultuous three terms, beginning during New York’s near bankruptcy in the late ’70s and extending through the racially charged and crime-ridden ’80s. Through it all, he was a champion for his city, and emblematic of it in many ways. He was outspoken and highly opinionated, earning friends and enemies in equal measure.

When Koch was inaugurated in 1978, New York was on the verge of bankruptcy, facing a $400 million deficit. Koch led the city out of that, largely by laying off public workers and convincing banks and the state and federal governments to help out with financing. Many historians consider that his chief accomplishment. His later two terms were rife with racial divisions, particularly between blacks and Jews. It was during those very public battles that Koch made most of his enemies.

However, after he left office, he was able to repair many of those relationships. Black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have had very kind things to say about the mayor, even while insisting that they largely disagreed with his policies.

Koch was also criticized for his failure to confront the burgeoning AIDS crisis in the ’80s.

All the way to the end, though, he remained a relatively popular and respected public figure. If a media outlet needed someone to give the New Yorker’s viewpoint, it could hardly do better than Koch. For better or worse, he was a symbol of New York, the city he loved and never left.

[N.Y. Times]

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