Former 3-term New York City mayor Ed Koch was a controversial figure. The mayor, who was the second Jewish denizen to hold the post, served from 1978 to 1989, and is credited with saving the city from financial ruin and improving city housing, services, and education. But as Koch, the new documentary by first-time filmmaker Neil Barsky shows, Koch’s legacy is as complicated as the budget he so famously balanced.
The film, which includes extensive interviews with the famously tenacious former mayor as well as stirring archival footage, also describes the racial tensions he inflamed, the corruption that festered under his watch, and the burgeoning AIDS crisis his administration was shamefully slow to do anything about.
In a sad twist, Koch died last Friday, on the very day the film premiered. But as Barsky told the New York Times, Koch had already seen the final cut and “he felt it was a very affectionate film, and one that honored his legacy.” Unfortunately, the former mayor passed before he could weigh in on the documentary himself, via his last venture: The Mayor at the Movies, a charmingly personable review website he launched in 2009—the same year he published his last book.