A life spent in the limelight

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4.15pm Saturday, March 16

Ed Koch loved the limelight — so it’s rather sad that the former New York mayor won’t get to enjoy the attention this fascinating film about his time in office will undoubtedly generate.

The 88-year-old died on February 1 this year, after willingly spending the last half-century in the public eye.

Thankfully, his impact on the city that never sleeps is unlikely to be forgotten thanks to former Wall Street Journal reporter Neil Barsky’s carefully crafted documentary.

For though ‘Koch’ is the story of one man’s political career, it’s also the story of the massive changes which took place in New York from 1977 to 1989, during his tenure.

Viewers are left in no doubt about the part Koch played in kick-starting the Big Apple’s transformation from an urban hellhole plagued by social problems to the magnificent metropolis it is today.

Barsky uses masses of archive footage and recent interviews with Koch and those who knew him to paint a picture of a brash, passionate, divisive and decisive mayor.

The film brilliantly tells the story of Koch’s three mayoral election wins and 12 tumultuous years in charge, as well as chronicling a critical period in New York’s history.

A Democratic congressman, Bronx-born Koch won his first term as mayor in a hotly contested election during which he stood at street corners, asking passersby “How’m I doin’?”.

He took over a city on the brink of bankruptcy and turned around its finances but some sectors of the five boroughs felt he didn’t adequately represent them.

A bachelor whose sexuality was the subject of much speculation during his three terms, he pushed through gay rights legislation.

But the gay community marched against Koch for failing to do enough during the AIDS epidemic, while he incensed black citizens after closing Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, despite promising not to while seeking their votes.

Koch lost the 1989 mayoral election a couple of years after City Hall was hit by a wave of corruption scandals, none directly involving him but involving his political allies.

Barsky doesn’t shy away from highlighting the former Mayor’s huge ego, questionable friendships and bad decisions, while acknowledging his successes, especially in providing public housing for New Yorkers.

Even his critics acknowledge Koch’s commitment to New York and his role in shaping its future.

Their testimony, and that of Koch’s friends and former colleagues, combine to create a film which is both an affectionate tribute to a larger-than-life character and a love letter to an ever-evolving city.

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Published Mar 6, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 6, 2013 at 8:40 am)

A life spent in the limelight

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