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African-American Leaders Express Respect For Mayor Koch Despite Sometimes Contentious Relationship

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Ed Koch's relationship with the city's African-American community was tumultuous and often contentious, but many black leaders say he still earned their respect. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

Ed Koch's first term got off to a rocky start with the African-American community.

One of the first things he did was close Sydenham Hospital in Harlem to save money.

"That stayed with us, with this community, that Ed Koch closed Sydenham," said Assemblyman Keith Wright of Manhattan. "And that's with us still to this day."

Charles Rangel served with Koch in Congress and later supported his first run for mayor. But eventually, the two would differ sharply, with Rangel switching his allegiance to David Dinkins, the man who forced Koch out of his final race for mayor.

Still, Rangel said Koch proved his heart was in the right place in matters of race.

"I never doubted his depth of sincerity for equality," Rangel said. "Three times, he had gone to the South. Three times, he had endangered his life for civil rights."

But many black leaders gave Koch poor marks for handling racial conflict in his own city. He was criticized for his response to racial violence in Howard Beach in 1986, and for his response to the Yousef Hawkins shooting just before the 1989 Democratic primary.

"Yousef Hawkins and the Howard Beach situation really gave black folks a reason to vote for David Dinkins," Wright said.

Rev. Al Sharpton fought many battles with Koch, but despite that, the two grew closer in recent years.

"I think when you look at people like Chris Christie, they are mere imitators of the original guy who would shoot from the hip, and that was Ed Koch," Sharpton said.

While Harlem residents said they recognized Koch's struggles in their community, they ultimately praised him.

"A lot of politicians have issues with the African-American population, so he wasn't by himself," said one person. "So I think we should focus on his memories, the good things that he did."

Koch was also praised in the Harlem community for appointing Benjamin Ward as the first African-American police commissioner in New York City history. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP