Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City

by Jonathan Soffer
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Lizabeth Cohen

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.

Richard Greenwald

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.

Craig Steven Wilder

'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.'

Mike Wallace
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.

The Millions - Phillip Lopate

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

Journal of American History - Miriam Greenberg

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

American Historical Review - Roger Biles

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.

The Millions
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.

— Phillip Lopate

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

— Miriam Greenberg

American Historical Review
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

Library Journal
Ed Koch, mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, was one of the most colorful and controversial of U.S. politicians. The son of immigrant Eastern European Jews, he has a quintessential rags-to-riches story that somehow parallels that of New York itself. Soffer (history, Polytechnic Inst., NYU) has produced, if not the definitive work on Koch, certainly a respectable and authoritative one, even if it feels sometimes like an amalgam of two different books, a biography and a municipal history. While Soffer does provide ample background on Koch's early life, he focuses much more on the larger canvas of New York at the time Koch was first elected mayor. The author concludes that Koch proved to be exactly the right person for the job as he strove to restore the city's financial integrity while balancing budgets and fighting an entrenched bureaucracy to make real changes. Despite genuine accomplishments on social issues, e.g., crime, homelessness, and AIDS, according to Soffer, Koch's record remains decidedly mixed. Koch's often pugilistic style alienated many—friends and foes alike. Additionally, his third term was riddled with corruption and scandals that surely contributed to his ultimate defeat in his 1989 bid for a fourth term. VERDICT New York admirers will find much to relish here, while those interested in learning how municipal governments work, especially during financial crises, will be especially enlightened by Soffer's efforts. Recommended.—Richard Drezen, Brooklyn, NY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231150323
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
10/14/2010
Series:
Columbia History of Urban Life Series
Pages:
528
Sales rank:
1,405,322
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Sven Beckert

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

Meet the Author

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

Columbia University Press

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