Ed Koch's legacy: A city bursting with free expression

Unlike subsequent mayors, he celebrated protests

What was Ed Koch's legacy as mayor? As an urban historian and his biographer, I could give you the wonky answers: his highly successful housing program, his key role in restoring the city's finances, and his work in laying the groundwork for municipal administration for the next quarter century. He was phenomenally accessible and outspoken, and sought out public debate.

And of course, there are negatives. The Koch years were marred by high rates of crime and disorder. His actions led many to perceive that Koch cared more about white ethnics then about African-Americans. He grew too close to Democratic machine politicians who proved to be crooks.

Yet Koch continued to have a tremendous influence and popular following for 22 years after he left Gracie Mansion. No other former mayor achieved anything comparable. He managed this feat because of his genuine, honest love for the city, which he communicated daily, and partly because he represented a durable constituency, especially among Jews.

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