As a Puerto Rican activist I was part of several encounters with former Mayor Ed Koch who passed on today at the age of 88. We took Koch on during his infamous budget cuts and his arrogant style of doing what he felt was right and then telling the community. I remember on one occasion that Koch organized a community forum at a South Bronx Public School to try and gather support for his budget cuts.
Koch had been going throughout the city explaining his cuts. However, we in the South Bronx were not going to allow him to come up here and get away with his traveling circus. He came with all his commissioners and in the Bronx forum, he had Congressman Robert Garcia as his firewall. As much as we respected our elders and had no problems with Garcia we were not about to let the mayor come up to our neighborhood and get away with explaining his budget cuts. We wanted to be part of the decision process not the end process.
South Bronx activist attorney, Ramón Jimenez and myself worked together with other friends and members of the Coalition in Defense of Puerto Rican & Hispanic Rights to come out and greet the mayor. Our plan was simple, we asked the mayor if he came to ask for our opinion and suggestions on the budget cuts, or did he come to tell us what he already cut? He said they already cut and came to explain the cuts. We then said he could not speak and got all the hundreds in attendance to agree with us and that was the end of Koch’s quick South Bronx visit. As he and his commissioners were packing up he pointed his finger at me and said that I belonged in Iran where there was no democracy and not New York. I laughed as he was escorted out by the local police while a full house of Blacks and Latinos chanted: “Leave, leave, que se valla, que se valla”
Koch was a character in a time where many in this city were fighting for basic rights. Our communities were in shambles, the city was broke, landlords were burning the South Bronx to collect insurance, racial tension was high, one big mess. He did what he felt he had to do as mayor and we activist did what we believed we had to do to protect our communities. I respect that. May he rest in peace.
I encourage folks to read the following Wayne Barrett article on Koch: SOURCE