While the brash and charismatic Ed Koch is being immortalized by many on the day of his funeral, some are evaluating the former mayor’s legacy with Latinos.
Some say Koch, who died of heart failure last week, fought for Hispanics in New York City at a time when Latinos were largely neglected.
“In 1986, when the federal government approved an amnesty immigration law for the undocumented, Ed Koch made sure that all New Yorkers without documents knew how to apply, and provided assistance through community organizations,” said Luis Miranda, founding president of the Hispanic Federation and Koch’s special advisor for Hispanic Affairs.
Miranda said it was Ed Koch who put in motion the construction of many new schools in overcrowded school districts in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens.
“But no doubt that for the Latino community his most remarkable achievement was the billions of capital dollars used to build and rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units throughout the city,” he said.
But not everyone thinks Koch’s legacy with Latinos is a good one.
“I would say that it was smoke and mirrors,” said Miguel Perez, a former New York Daily News Columnist who often sparred with Koch. “He pretended to be doing all kinds of wonderful things but if you look at it, he didn’t hire any Latinos or put them into important positions.”
Perez now serves as chairman of the communications department at Lehman College in the Bronx, which is part of the City University of New York.
New York Congressman Jose Serrano in a statement chose to focus on the positive Koch did, in particular what he did for the Bronx.
“He took over in a bleak time, and started turning the City around. His belief in the people of New York helped put our City back on an upswing that continues to this day. This is particularly true in the Bronx as he helped it rebound from its hard times, by insisting on rebuilding when others wanted to write our borough off,” said Serrano.
He’d pretend he was Superman, go into a phone booth and come out as "Ethnic Ed." He wasn’t really into us, into helping us out.
Koch who served as New York’s Mayor from 1978 to 1989 had shaky relationships with African-American leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, the latter who he accused of anti-Semitism.
During the Mayor’s term, Perez coined the phrase “Ethnic Ed” in reference to Koch’s portrayal of himself as a man of all people.
“He’d pretend he was Superman, go into a phone booth and come out as ‘Ethnic Ed,’” said Perez. “He wasn’t really into us, into helping us out.”
He said Latinos, during Koch’s term, were not getting their share of government jobs.
Still, even though he was unhappy about Koch’s record with Latinos, Perez said he actually agreed with Koch on most issues and thought he was better than his predecessors.
“It was the times. We were still making a lot of progress, we have come a long way,” said Perez. “Koch was better than his predecessor but it was also a lack of sensibility on his part when it came to minorities. I don’t think he was really into diversity.”
Follow Victor Garcia on Twitter @MrVicGarcia.