BY CLAIRE SHULMAN
Welcome to my bridge! Welcome to my bridge!
That was Ed Koch, son of Polish immigrants, who became the mayor of the world’s greatest city.
That same opportunity exists today and continues to attract immigrants to our shores looking for a better life. After serving in the Council and Congress, Ed became mayor at a critical time for the city. We were virtually bankrupt and for the first time people considered leaving town for a better future elsewhere.
A wholesale depression settled in and the exuberance that generally described us was gone. It was 1978 and in came this whirlwind guy from Greenwich Village with his enormous energy and a strong belief in the city.
He literally lifted our spirits and every day raised his arms and loudly proclaimed that New York City is alive and well. He restored glamour and industry to the city of promise.
He hired the best people and set to crafting a budget that the city could afford and yet survive.
His confidence in the city caught on, and the grumbling over cuts was no longer an issue.
He really understood how to make government work. He will be remembered for many things, including rehabbing vacant apartments into affordable housing in the Bronx and other parts of the city.
Who can forget driving the Cross Bronx Expressway looking at flowers painted on the windows of thousands of empty apartments?
Once I took Ed to the Astoria Motion Picture Center to watch Sidney Lument direct the “WIZ.” Astoria is now of course home to Kaufman Astoria Studio, which was long ago Paramount Studios Circa1898.
Ed and I stood on the darkest part of the enormous stage and watched Diana Ross dance down the yellow brick road right into Ed’s arms. You can’t imagine his excitement. This was right up his alley and of course media was part of his life. But most of all he understood the importance of bringing the motion picture and television industry back to New York City and was forever a supporter of the project.
During the early 1980’s the New York City film industry did almost zero in economic activity and now the latest number is $7.1 billion. What a leap forward.
The scandal of former Borough President Donald R. Manes in 1986 during Ed’s watch caught him by surprise and of course he was most distressed and it took a while for him to recover, but recover he did and the old bounce returned. He always supported me during that terrible time for which I am eternally grateful.
Some people think that one scandal will close his legacy but I don’t think so. His saving the city from financial disaster and returning the city to its greatest will forever be his legacy and history will treat him well. For a short but important time New York City was Ed Koch and Ed Koch was New York City.
Claire Shulman is former Queens Borough President.