Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

Jonathan Soffer

Columbia University Press

Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

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Pub Date: January 2012

ISBN: 9780231150330

528 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $24.95£21.00

Pub Date: October 2010

ISBN: 9780231150323

528 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $34.95£30.00

Pub Date: October 2010

ISBN: 9780231520904

528 Pages

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Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

Jonathan Soffer

Columbia University Press

In 1978, Ed Koch assumed control of a city plagued by filth, crime, bankruptcy, and racial tensions. By the end of his mayoral run in 1989 and despite the Wall Street crash of 1987, his administration had begun rebuilding neighborhoods and infrastructure. Unlike many American cities, Koch's New York was growing, not shrinking. Gentrification brought new businesses to neglected corners and converted low-end rental housing to coops and condos. Nevertheless, not all the changes were positive—AIDS, crime, homelessness, and violent racial conflict increased, marking a time of great, if somewhat uneven, transition.

For better or worse, Koch's efforts convinced many New Yorkers to embrace a new political order subsidizing business, particularly finance, insurance, and real estate, and privatizing public space. Each phase of the city's recovery required a difficult choice between moneyed interests and social services, forcing Koch to be both a moderate and a pragmatist as he tried to mitigate growing economic inequality. Throughout, Koch's rough rhetoric (attacking his opponents as "crazy," "wackos," and "radicals") prompted charges of being racially divisive. The first book to recast Koch's legacy through personal and mayoral papers, authorized interviews, and oral histories, this volume plots a history of New York City through two rarely studied yet crucial decades: the bankruptcy of the 1970s and the recovery and crash of the 1980s.

Soffer's biography is a successful exploration of the history of one of New York's most charismatic mayors. It delivers on its promises on several levels, telling the history of Ed Koch the person, analyzing his politics, and then situating the story within the radical changes of Koch's political activism. This book is well written, accessible, thoughtful, and deals with a subject many New Yorkers care deeply about.

Sven Beckert, Harvard University, author of The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie

Soffer has written a fascinating biography of New York City Mayor Ed Koch—but he has done so much more than that. He skillfully uses Koch's reign to tell the story of the city from 1978 to 1990, a rags-to-riches saga with many lessons for today's cities as they cope with enormous financial pressure. Whether or not you are a New Yorker, this marvelously told tale of a mayor and his city will grip you.

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University, author of A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

Soffer is able to bring Ed Koch into critical focus through his narrative gaze, clean writing style, and expert use of a dazzling array of sources. By using such a colorful character as Koch, Soffer illuminates the way neoliberalism has made, remade, and unmade our urban landscape. He illuminates the importance of Koch in local and national politics and represents a larger phenomenon in America life. By thoroughly examining the politics and policies of his mayoralty, he allows us to see more clearly the world in which we live.

Richard Greenwald, Drew University, author of The Triangle Fire, the Protocols of Peace, and Industrial Democracy In Progressive Era New York

'How'm I doin'?', Ed Koch's tagline, promised New Yorkers accountability and order after a fiscal crisis that brought the city to the verge of bankruptcy, the Son of Sam serial murders, and the racial mayhem of the July 1977 blackout. Brilliant and witty, jovial and magnetic, Koch was also a mean, stubborn, and polarizing figure. Jonathan Soffer brilliantly navigates us through the sea of local, national, and international events that created the phenomenon that is 'Hizzoner.'

Craig Steven Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn

Jonathan Soffer's is now the go-to book on Ed Koch and his mayoralty. Critical yet even-handed, it is lucidly written, theoretically sophisticated, and solidly sourced in interviews and archives. And it offers fresh perspectives on many aspects of New York's history in the 1960s-1990s, notably the neoliberal turn, the fiscal crisis, racial and religious relations, and the interlinked trinity of gentrification, homelessness, and redevelopment.

Mike Wallace, City University of New York, coauthor of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

New York admirers will find much to relish here, while those interested in learning how municipal governments work, especially during financial crisis, will be especially during financial crisis, will be especially enlightened by Soffer's efforts.

Library Journal

This fascinating, entertainingly written and illuminating book, the best piece of contemporary urban history I've read in a long time, is a marvel of even-handedness and balance.The Millions

Phillip Lopate, The Millions

Provides an invaluable resource for urbanists, historians, scholars of New York, and anyone interested in this extraordinary subject, city, and time.

Miriam Greenberg, Journal of American History

In his evenhanded treatment of the confrontational and controversial mayor, Soffer endorses the liberal indictment and fully acknowledges Koch's shortcomings. At the same time, however, the author presents a compelling brief for Koch that underscores the desperate condition of New York City in the late 1970s and argues convincingly for the mayor's decision to employ draconian measures.

Roger Biles, American Historical Review
1. Introduction
2. Struggling to Be Middle Class: Ed Koch's Early Life
3. It Takes a Village (1949–58)
4. "Rhymes with Notch" (1959–64)
5. The Man Who Beat Carmine De Sapio
6. A Rebel with Reason
7. Koch's Corridor (1969–76)
8. "A Liberal with Sanity": Koch as the Anti-Bella
9. New York: Divided and Broke (1973–77)
10. The 1977 Mayoral Election
11. The Critical First Term (1978–81)
12. The Politics of Race and Party
13. Shake-up (1979–80)
14. Controlled Fusion: Or, to Koch or Not to Koch (1980–81)
15. Governor Koch? (1982–83)
16. Larger Than Life (1984–85)
17. A New Spatial Order: Gentrification, the Parks, Times Square
18. Homelessness
19. The Koch Housing Plan (1986–89)
20. AIDS
21. Crime and Police Issues (1978–84)
22. The Ward Years: Police, Crime, and Police Crimes (1984–89)
23. Don't Follow County Leaders, and Watch Your Parking Meters (1986)
24. Koch's Endgame (1988–89)
25. Epilogue

Read the chapter "The Critical First Term, 1978-1981" from Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner)

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About the Author

Jonathan Soffer is associate professor of history at New York University's Polytechnic Institute.