Ed Koch’s Biggest Mistake

Ed Koch was the 105th Mayor of New York City, serving 3 terms, from 1978 to 1989. During his time as Mayor, Koch oversaw the city’s resurgence from a severe recession, helped to develop low-income housing, and created legislation that prohibited discrimination by the government based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing and education, among many other achievements. The author of 8 books, including “Citizen Koch” and “My Fight Against Anti-Semitism,” he hosts a show on Bloomberg Radio, was recently a judge for “The People’s Court,“ and writes columns for a variety of publications. Born in the Bronx, Koch achieved the rank of Sergeant while fighting in World War II, before completing his law degree at NYU. He lives in Manhattan.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: What is your biggest regret as mayor?

Ed Koch: Well, I would say every Mayor before me, and myself included was told by all the experts that a hospital located in Harlem which did not provide very good medical care should be closed, that it was not possible to remedy it for a number of reasons, one of which was that the doctors there did not want to rotate through a teaching hospital because they wanted to keep their jurisdictions. That Hospital, called Sydenham had been opened during a period when black doctors were not welcome at many white-dominated hospitals and so they opened their own hospital, but not providing very good care for a whole host of reasons.

Every Mayor before me had backed off because of threats of rioting and citizen anger. I said, no, I'm going to do what is right for the people of Harlem and every other district in this city and provide good medical care where I can. We're going to close it and put in clinics; and we closed it.

I think we saved $9 million. It was the highest cost hospital with the worst outcomes according to the Budget Director at the time. And the people were very angry. And on reflection, even though I was praised for being courageous about it and doing the right thing. It was the wrong thing. We saved $9 million. So what. In those days, even $9 million was relatively small sum in terms of government expenditures. I didn't recognize the psychological impact of closing Sydenham, the pain. And so, I've told people when they've asked me questions similar to yours, that I regret having closed that. But it's done.

Question: Was it a mistake to run for a fourth term?

Ed Koch: Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that I now believe three terms is adequate and should be the max. I think after that your energy is drained.

No, in that I would have done a very good job even with that caveat and as I said, after I lost to David Dinkins won and then people came through in regret of having thrown me out I said, part jokily and part seriously. When people said, "Oh, Mayor, you must run again." I said, "No, people threw me out and now the people must be punished." So, those are my feelings.


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