There are a variety of reasons why Ed Koch remains one of New York’s most esteemed former mayors.
Question: What do you consider your greatest accomplishments as mayor?
Ed Koch: Well, these are the ones that are generally signed and assessed as being the best of our administration. One, and Senator Patrick Monahan said I gave the people of the city back their morale which had been taken away from them because they were all so ashamed of what Lindsey and Beame and others had done to bring us to our knees financially. I balanced the budget. I created this extraordinary housing program.
I also removed from politics the selection of Criminal Court and Family Court Judges. They normally being selected by the Mayor of the City of New York. In the past, if a Mayor wanted to be perceived as progressive, he would after selecting his candidate for Criminal Court or Family Court then turn it over to a friendly committee for an opinion as to whether or not they were qualified and they thought that that was merit. That's not merit. Merit selection system is what I did. I had a committee, which everyone said was exceptional, and more than half were selected by the two presiding justices of the two appellate divisions in the City of New York, and I appointed the other less than half, including the Deans of Fordham, NYU, and Columbia, to find candidates and submit three candidates to me for every vacant position with me being pledged not to pick anyone who wasn't part of the three. If I didn't consider the three adequate, I could tell them to come in with three more. But they picked the candidates, not me. I picked one of the three for final selection.
So, I'm very proud of all of those things. And then I also I'm very proud, equally proud of having as the fourth executive order of my administration ordered that there be no discrimination based on sexual orientation by the city government in housing and jobs and education. That had never been done before.
And then, in 1986, I got the City Council, which was required, to impose similar restrictions on the private sector, the businesses in the City of New York. The executive order only applied to the government. The 86th law, which I initiated, applied to the whole city economy. I also initiated the first anti-smoking law in restaurants in big cities and I created the financial campaign board which provides to this day, limitations on how much you can spend on an election and subsidies for those who are running based on the amounts they raised privately in the private sector, the City gives them additional money so as to remove the power of money, so to speak in preventing people from running.
Question: How did you justify funding the arts in a recession?
Ed Koch: I mean, if you had to justify it, all you had to say to them is, men and women do not live by bread alone. And so what I did that is remembered, is to take a congressional item of legislation which provided that a certain percentage of the capital assigned to build a building with city funds, a certain percentage should be used for artwork; a percent for art **** is what it was called. It's still in effect. It was a wonderful item of legislation because it in effect mandated in both civic buildings and other buildings that there be artwork paid for by the city government