As mayor, Koch is credited with a number of achievements. Unfortunately, some of those achievements were at the expense of black and poor people. With New York City confronted with bankruptcy in the late 1970s, Koch did what any Reagan democrat would have done—he slashed the budget. He sent a message to unions when he challenged the transit workers' strike in April, 1980. He showed solidarity with commuters by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. The strike lasted eleven days and in the end Koch was victorious. In addition to subduing the municipal unions, he restored the city's credit, revived a moribund capital budget, began work on long-neglected streets and bridges, and cut antipoverty programs. These latter cuts caused an outcries from black and Hispanic leaders who accused the mayor of favoring the middle class. His response was these cuts were needed to balanced the budget. In his second term, helped by a booming local economy, state aid and rising tax revenues, the city government, with a $500 million surplus, hired workers back and restored many municipal services. Koch also made plans for major housing programs, improvements in education and efforts to reduce welfare dependency. This is Koch's legacy. But he also reigned over a city that flourished in corruption (most of which was exposed in his third term) and many of his policies and comments exacerbated racial tensions.
Koch's mayoralty was marred by the biggest corruption scandals in New York City politics. The scandal encompassed most notably Queens Borough President Donald Manes, Bronx Democratic party official Stanley Friedman, and Brooklyn Democratic boss Meade Esposito. Others involved included Department of Transportation Commissioner Tony Ameruso, Parking Violations Bureau official Geoffrey Lindenauer, and Cultural Affairs commissioner Bess Myerson. Additionally, the scandal snared businessmen, lawyers, parking meter attendants, sewer inspectors and others. Though there were no allegations that Koch obtained any financial benefit from the corruption, this is a moot point. The Afrikan proverb reminds us that “The fish rots from the head first,” meaning corruption begins at the top. No one has ever accused or proven Koch was guilty of any wrongdoing but no one has ever proven he was homosexual either!
In a city with a history of police brutality, the mayor, in 1983 appointed a black police commissioner, Benjamin Ward. But Ward was weak, even incompetent, and things went from bad to worse. Under Koch's watch all of the following occurred: a white officer shotgunned and killed a black grandmother, Eleanor Bumpurs, 66; a gang of white teenagers assaulted 3 black men in Howard Beach, Queens, chasing one of them, Michael Griffin, into an automobile reportedly driven by a member of the mob; a black youth, Yusuf K. Hawkins, 16, who went to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to inquire about a used car, was attacked by a white mob and shot dead. The death of Mr. Hawkins came just a month before Koch faced David Dinkins, the Manhattan borough president and the only black candidate in that year's Democratic primary. It is because Dinkins was perceived as the anti-racist, the antithesis of Koch, and by Dinkins pledging to bring the city together again in a “gorgeous mosaic,” that he was able to defeat the racist, becoming the city's first Afrikan American mayor.
I was a young man during this period, and it was clear to me that Koch was more than simply insensitive to black people. From his economic policies, the antipoverty program and other cuts to city services, the wonton police brutality, even the minor legislation banning the playing of radios on subways and buses (which was clearly directed at black youth), to his attack on presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson (for his Hymietown remark), Koch was a racist. His politics were very much like Reagan's and since I consider Reagan a racist, then Koch must be one too. That's how I remember Ed Koch.