by John Weir / gawker.com
It starts with a nosebleed and ends with a dead guy. Three dead guys, actually, and one of them is Ed Koch.
Something remarkable happened after Koch’s death: the New York Times rewrote his obituary. In the first version, nobody said what many people knew, and had long known: that Mayor Koch in his two terms in office as the highest ranking public official in the biggest city in the US and world financial center presided over a health crisis that was quickly going global and would, by the end of the 1980s, kill 50,000 Americans (as many Americans as died in the Vietnam War).
Ed Koch was responsible for the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers, said nearly everyone I knew who lived in New York City from 1980 to 1989. A war criminal, some said, and: a sell-out to real estate tycoons, a mischievous player of racial politics, egregiously Manhattan-centric (Manhattan below 125th Street), a fake liberal, de facto Republican, a gay man who had remained strategically closeted for political gain, a gay man who did not respond to the AIDS crisis with any deliberate speed because he did not want anyone to think he was a fag taking care of dying fags.
Forget Ed Koch. What struck me was that a lot of people, not just those I knew in real space/time but people I had “met” only virtually, many of whom were consistently and almost comically reverent about death – all the schmaltzy well-meaning Youtube and Facebook and Twitter tributes to the merest no big deal dead celebrity – were so outraged by Koch’s mayoral record, even now, that their immediate response to news of his death was to go online and call an 88-year-old-man, a famous now dead public servant, his body barely cold, a murderer.
More remarkable to me, however, was the number of people who did not seem to have the slightest idea why anyone would call Ed Koch a murderer.
I wondered if we had lived in the same place at the same time. Did we live in this city together all that time?
I meant to end, not open, with Ed Koch, but once I got started with him, his failures rerouted my narrative, the story of my life.
To begin again:
I got a nosebleed on the way to see The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s play about AIDS and the founding of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Actually, I saw it twice: in 1985, in its first production, downtown at the Public Theater; and twenty-six years later, when it opened on Broadway for the first time, in a revival staged in the spring of 2011. I was twenty-six years old the first time I saw it. And because I was boyfriends from 1983 to 1989 with a guy who was for some of that time Director of Group Services for GMHC, I knew, had met, watched die, many of the people on whom the characters in the play were based. People who had sat for Kramer’s composite portraits: Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, Nathan Fain, Enno Poersch, Mitchell Cutler, Dan Bailey, Rodger McFarlane. . .
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