Former New York City mayor Ed Koch is alive, but he visits his own grave. You see, he’s already erected a double wide gravestone with inscriptions and an epitaph written by him. And in a new documentary called “Koch,” by Neil Barsky, set for release next month, Koch takes the filmmakers up to the very un-Jewish Trinity Church cemetery at Broadway and West 155th St. to view this achievement.
Here’s what Koch has to say about himself in carved into granite:
“Edward I. Koch, mayor of the city of New York. He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the city of New York. And he fiercely loved its people. Above all he loved his country, the United States of America in whose Armed Forces he served in World War II.”
The stone is also engraved with a quote from murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl that reads: “My mother father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” But Koch is not only to be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery, he has already put up the stone–something that traditionally is done on the first anniversary of a Jewish death.
Why is he in a non-Jewish cemetery. He claims he likes “the hustle and bustle” of Trinity (apparently it’s very busy). He didn’t think he’d be “seen” in a Jewish cemetery, and claims–inaccurately–that most of them in New York are “closed” to new burials.
In New York, at least, the Barsky documentary will be controversial. It’s more or less a rebuttal to a 2009 doc called “Outrage,” and follows the path of a book called “The Rebuilding of New York” by Jonathan Soffer. “Outrage” tried to “out” Koch as gay and blame him for New York’s AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. The book heralded Koch’s record of rebuilding the city. The new film does its best to rewrite his history as a politician who actually defended and protected the gay community and was in the forefront of gay rights. I will leave this part to those who know better. And they will be vocal. When Barsky asks Koch if he’s gay, the mayor responds: “It’s none of your fucking business.”
Is he digging his own grave? If so, he can visit it. Otherwise “Koch” is very well made, and shows a nearly 90 year old man who’s survived everything, but seemingly has no self-awareness or conscience on most subjects.
But as mayor he was a force to be reckoned with, especially in his first two terms. And you do get an understanding of how his motto, “How’m I doing?” really means “Go screw yourself.” He doesn’t care really what we think of how he’s doing. The film also chronicles Koch’s greatest hits, from famously closing a hospital that was important to the black community to endless examples of how he let the outer boroughs deteriorate especially in his third term. There’s also great archival footage of his failed effort for an unprecedented–and completely nuts–fourth term.