Thursday, March 14, 2013

How'm I Doin'?

These days, the only reason to venture out to a movie theater is when a good documentary is playing.  And the new film "Koch" is just another validation of that excuse.

In the early 90s when I was working in Manhattan, my morning trek from Grand Central to my office on 54th Street and Broadway always led me down 51st Street.  And, given the daily routine, I'd always pass by at exactly the same time that Ed Koch was getting out of a private car service to enter his law office.  Now when I see famous people out and about, I usually don't acknowledge them.  But, Ed Koch?  How do you not?  I'd say "hello."

"And good morning to you."

Always a kind word.  An eternal smile.  He seemed to enjoy life.  And this city that he once ruled over.

Neil Barsky's movie captures all of that.  It serves as a valentine to the famed Mayor, but, at the same time, pulls no punches with criticism.  It is honest and open.  It doesn't shy away from the issues.  But, at the film's conclusion, you can't help but like Ed Koch.  So, despite all the bullshit of political misfires and chicanery, Koch managed to rise above it.  Perhaps a little tattered and tarnished, but still revered and respected.

Barsky dovetails Koch's political life with his existence now as a much sought-after pundit and counsel.   With New York City a virtual Babylon in the late 70s, Koch runs for Mayor against Mario Cuomo, who proves himself once again to be one of the sleaziest politicians this side of Al Sharpton.  In a tight race, Koch must endure subway posters that exclaimed "Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo."  

Ed was always dogged by rumors about his sexuality and dirtbag Mario, who was later touted by the ultra-screwball left as Presidential timber, did not miss the opportunity to slander his opponent.  The good news is that the elder Cuomo had his own Mafia skeletons in the closet and never got further than Albany.  In the film, Koch states that Cuomo denied he was behind the dirty posters.  And then laughs.

Of course, Koch wins that election, largely because he was smart enough to drag lifetime game show denizen Bess Myerson along for the ride as his companion.  He is honest enough to reveal to the filmmaker that they were never anything more than good friends.  And stops just short of revealing anything else.   His sexuality is "none of anybody's business."

Koch's first two go-rounds as Mayor were a success.  His unique stance as a fiscal conservative and social liberal were a breath of fresh air and, as a result, the city of New York rebounded from both financial and urban ruin.  Of course, as is the ultimate destination for all political office holders, greediness raises its ugly head.  While Koch himself was not corrupt, some of his associates were and that precipitated his downfall as he sought a fourth term.  Losing to the incredibly inept David Dinkins, of all people.  But, all along the way, Ed steadfastly refuses to relent to pressure from voting blocs.  Blacks, Hispanics, gays.  He'd listen but still do what he thought what was right for New York City.  A huge difference from the clowns living in Washington, DC today.

As we follow the current-day Koch, he is still as feisty as ever.  Showing up at Governor Andrew Cuomo's Election Night victory party, he discovers that Mario's son has no time to say hello.

"What a schmuck."

Ed clearly remembers his own torture from the Cuomo clan.  And gladly admits it.  Meanwhile, we also follow Koch through some very sweet moments.  Selecting his Harlem grave site in a Christian cemetery.  Making plans to see a grandniece in a music recital.  And joining in with other family at a Passover seder.  And the message from him throughout?  Life is grand.

The day "Koch" opened in New York last month, Ed Koch passed away.  Supposedly, he had seen the finished product and was pleased with it.  Why shouldn't he be?  It's a terrific documentary.  And such films are when the subject matter is so worthy of further exploration.

A job well done.  By both the filmmaker and the Mayor himself.

Dinner last night:  Ham sandwich.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ed Koch is the only politician I ever liked. He was a blunt and funny New York native, a Mayor who rode the subway. He was a master in front of the cameras, born to perform.

I wrote a few of his comments for his press conferences. He nailed it every time.

When you look at all the mayors being indicted now for corruption, the "scandals" which unfairly tainted Koch are nothing. He was never profiting from office, unlike crooks such as the recently convicted ex-mayor of Detroit. Or the mayor of Baltimore. Or the mayor of Newark. Or the congressman from Chicago.

Koch got a raw deal. Maybe this film can right that wrong.