There's an animated debate going on at the outset of Koch, Neil Barsky's fine documentary about Ed Koch, in which members of New York's City Council consider a proposal to rename the Queensboro Bridge in honor of their former, and famous, mayor.
There are those very much in favor, and those very much opposed. And that neatly sums up the feelings New Yorkers - and those beyond the five boroughs - had about Koch, a man whose energy, and ego, knew no bounds.
Granted generous access to the octogenarian pol - who died on the day of the film's New York release in February - Barsky follows the relentless schmoozer as he hobs and nobs with the powerful and the plebes.
Through archival footage and interviews with those who loved him and tolerated him, Koch chronicles the mayor's considerable triumphs and sad failures, from the surprising 1977 campaign that put him in the mayor's mansion to the dissonant fourth-term try in '89 that sent him packing - in the wake of corruption scandals and racial discord.
Koch reminds us what a mess New York used to be: the graffiti, the garbage, the crime. But Koch took it all on, in the process establishing a landmark housing policy that turned desolate swaths of the city into vibrant neighborhoods again. Oddly, but tellingly, this is a legacy Koch was late to claim as his own.
Barsky, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, brings an investigative thoroughness to the film, addressing the issues that dogged Koch through his career: Was he gay? Was his less-than-vigorous response to the AIDS epidemic somehow rooted in his own conflicted sexual identity? Was he a racist?
He was certainly combative, and confident, and full of love for the city he governed with such gusto. Koch is a New York story for the whole world to appreciate.
Koch ***1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Neil Barsky. With Ed Koch, Andrew Cuomo, Calvin Butts, and others. Distributed by
Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.
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