Villagers Debate Koch’s Legacy: Local Mentor Or ‘Fascist Twit’?

.Mary Reinholz

A tribute in the window of the Strand quotes remarks that the late Ed Koch made at the bookstore’s 80th anniversary: “I have lived in the Village since 1956, so I grew up with the Strand,” he said with his usual aplomb. “I am actually two years older, so I am in a sense their mentor.”

Fred Bass, owner of the bookstore, told The Local that Mr. Koch was only an occasional visitor, but his appearance in 2007 was a memorable one. “You don’t have to be born in New York City to be a New Yorker,” he told the crowd. “If you lived here for six months and at the end of six months you find that you walk faster, you talk faster and you think faster, you’re a New Yorker.”

Mr. Koch was quite the New Yorker, and quite the Villager, as the Times, the Post, and Off the Grid have pointed out. We can recall seeing the mayor-turned-movie-critic alone at Cinema Village, catching a showing of “The Extra Man,” and then alone again at the Regal Union Square. We spotted him dining at Japonica. In 2011 we filmed him reading his children’s book, “Eddie Shapes Up,” to a group of East Village schoolchildren.

The mayor told students of P.S. 64 that the East Village had gone from an “awful” place that was “very sad,” to a “marvelous place” that was “one of the neighborhoods people want to live in and pay a lot of money to live in,” DNA Info reported. An interactive graphic produced by The Times shows the degree to which the neighborhood’s population grew wealthier in the years since he took office in 1978.

On Facebook, East Village residents didn’t give Koch much credit for that change.

Feminist and journalist Susan Brownmiller called him “a creepy Mr. Magoo who sold out New York to real-estate developers. He was a hater, a baiter.”

EdKochThe Strand

Aron Kay, the “Yippie Pieman” who once shoved a joint in Koch’s face, is also no fan. “He would sic the nypd on the loose joint vendors in washington square park…” he recalled on Facebook. “In 1982, he would turn loose the pot squard in the parks in nyc.”

Mr. Kay wrote, “i organized a squad of yippies and rainbows to picket the hyatt regency due to the fact koch was crashing there. we were demanding justice for michael stewart-a graffiti artist who was murdered by the pigs at a subway station(first avenue L train).. people cranked his phone all night!!!”

Outspoken commentator Bill Weinberg wrote, “I am SOOO sick of hearing the fascist twit being eulogized.” He went on to complain that “Koch signed off on the TSP curfew” that touched off the 1988 riot in Tompkins Square Park, and that he “started the aggressive ‘clean up’ of NYC for the real estate biz, which was merely continued and extended by those who followed.”

Koch at P.S. 64.

Photographer David Sorcher begged to differ about Koch’s culpability in the 1988 riots. “Yes, those wacky Koch years…but as one who was involved directly with the riot and was probably one of the very first to register an official complaint against the NYPD with the Civil Complaint Board, i never really blamed Koch directly for the riot,” he wrote. “He was a delegator and put his trust (unduly) in [police commissioner Benjamin] Ward. Koch’s watch for sure, but not his orders.”

In 2010, Koch recalled the riots in a video produced by The Daily Beast. “The fact is that those who were in charge failed in their responsibility. It was a mess but I think the city learned a lot from it. I don’t think we’ve had anything like that ever happen ever again,” he said, sitting in Tompkins Square Park. “As I look around the park I see now what you didn’t see then: women and children walking, talking, having no fear. The whole Lower East Side has changed, and I think changed for the better.”